In December 2017 my wife and I purchased the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot for my son’s birthday. In the 4 months we have owned the devices, we mainly use them as a timer, a light switch for a living room light (via a wireless plugin) and playing music from our Amazon account.
Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I was sitting in my living room in the evening. With no command (Alexa), I start to hear what sounds like a family conversation on my Echo. I’m the only person in the room. It takes me by surprise, so I click the + button to raise the volume on the Echo to clarify what I’m hearing.
It’s a women, a man, a child, a grandparent… none of which are my wife or my son.
I quickly reach for my cell phone to record what I’m hearing but I can’t find the app on my phone. My son enters the room, I frantically ask him where is the voice recording app on my phone (he plays with it from time to time). He asks “who is that”, in reference to the family laughing in the background about “how cute the bunny ears look on her”. I said to my son, that is another families private conversation, playing on our Alexa.
My son finally finds the voice recording app, I click it to open the app and the 30+ second private conversation from someone else’s home stops playing on my Amazon Echo.
It made me feel sick.
This wasn’t a computers voice, this was a family, enjoying Easter, privately at home. Was it my neighbor? a family from a different state? I don’t know or want to know!
I’m assuming they have an Amazon Alexa device of some sort, maybe not. The families conversation didn’t indicate they had any idea that what they were saying was being broadcast into my home. Somebodies private conversation was playing through my Amazon Echo for 30+ seconds and I had no control over it, nor did it seem they did. There isn’t a “record” button on the device, nor a broadcast feature.
I didn’t sleep well last night and this situation had to do with it. It’s creepy! It’s not right! These companies say they won’t do this or won’t do that but I have lost all faith and trust in the Amazon Echo. A families private conversation should never play into my home, period. You can have all the privacy laws in the world, but when you hear somebodies private conversation playing in your home, it’s creepy and not right. It should never happen!
I now have a couple hundred dollars worth of Amazon Alexa equipment that is unplugged and will never be used again in my home!
This should have never happened but it did!
Update: I had multiple conversations, over several weeks with Amazon after I reached out to the head of development for Alexa about this. In short, the end result didn’t end up with a satisfying answer from Amazon.
It was determined that my wife’s phone automatically “paired” with the Echo upon us arriving home. It paired for 24 minutes and then paired again for 12 minutes “streaming”.
Amazon was certain that the Echo was “prompted” by something that sounded like Alexa and played an “ad” or “commercial” from my wife’s phone to the Echo and that was the conversation I heard. I was certain this wasn’t the case. I was the only one in the living room, by the Echo and I didn’t say a word. Plus, what played was a normal household conversation, not ad quality. It was personal conversation in our home, not from our home.
I asked and asked and asked the process, to fully understand it. In doing so, what I learned, didn’t allow Amazon’s story to match up. Anytime the Echo’s keyword (Alexa) is or something that is similar said, the Echo records that prompt. The fact is, Amazon had ZERO recording of an “Alexa Pair” or anything like it, to stream. You have to say Alexa Pair in order to stream from a bluetooth connected device.
Although my wife’s phone and matching MAC address was connected to the Echo, there was and is not a recording of anybody from our home, telling “Alexa to pair” in order to stream anything.
After I pointed this fact out, they researched it more. This time, I wanted a reply by email only. The final reply was:
I’m following up with your recent case regarding the audio conversation you heard on your Echo Device. I appreciate your patience. Our Developer Team have concluded that the audio came from a phone connected via Bluetooth.
I’d like to assure you that Amazon takes all security-related matters very seriously and your account security is our top priority. We have polices and security measures in place to ensure that your personal information remains secure.
In addition, as a goodwill gesture we’d like to extended your Prime membership for a whole year. Please reply to this email to let us know if you’d like to accept this gift.
Thanks for choosing Amazon.com, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
We did not “accept” the goodwill gesture of the extended prime membership, to note.
Again, in order for something to “stream” from a connected bluetooth device to the Echo, is by a prompt of “Alexa, Pair” or something very similar. There are no records of “Alexa, Pair” recorded by the device.
I still strongly believe that somebodies personal conversation was unknowingly broadcasted over our Echo.
Now, mine isn’t the only one (although this one was a bit different in a way, it still involved the Echo and playing a conversation into somebody else’s home). TechCrunch.com covered it, as well as many other large publications.