Alexa, Please Stop Recording Me

May 25, 2018 Last Updated: May 28, 2018

Alexa users have become concerned over privacy issues after a private conversation was recorded and sent to a contact. Amazon has issued an explanation of how it happened in an attempt to reassure users.

Those familiar with voice recognition software are often tolerant of its nascent shortcomings. As the software is developed, particularly in its early stages, words or commands may be misunderstood, leading to unintentional and mostly harmless or comical results. At one point, says Spencer Soper of Bloomberg News, “television commercials were triggering [Alexa].” This was fixed by changing the frequency of the word “Alexa” in commercials.

In this case, Alexa picked up on several words in the conversation that sounded like specific commands, but were not actually intended to sound like and/or be the commands:

  1. “Alexa.” This wakes up the device, alerting it that commands may be incoming.
  2. “Send a message.” Tells Alexa that a message is to be sent, consisting of whatever verbal message the user wishes to record.
  3. Alexa will then ask the user to whom the message is to be sent.

The couple must not have heard Alexa requested a sender, Amazon speculated. The last command Alexa heard was the name of one of the couple’s contacts. At this point, the recorded “message” was sent to their contact.

When asked how rare this sort of incident is, Soper says that bugs and kinks are normal in developing technology, and users usually know to expect them. He said that this “is more alarming, in that, it was actually transmitted to a third party.”

Amazon says this is extremely rare, but will be using this incident to help inform its future Alexa evaluations and updates. In the meantime, it seems, users will need to use their newfound awareness of this issue to help inform their own Alexa use.