Amazon Alexa recorded family's private conversation, then sent it to someone else

A United States couple was horrified to find out that their private conversation was recorded by Amazon's Echo voice-controlled device and sent to a work contact. The employee then sent the husband audio files of the chats that the Echo had sent, and the family promptly pulled the plug on all of them.

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa".

"As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely", an Amazon spokesperson told Buzzfeed.

"I felt invaded, like total privacy invasion", Danielle said.

Danielle added that they were only made aware that the conversation had been recorded and forwarded when the recipient contacted them and suggested they "unplug your Alexa devices right now... you're being hacked".

But those who do not want Alexa to listen to them at all can press and hold the microphone button on top of their Echo speaker until it turns red. After a while, Amazon responded to the complaint and acknowledged that there was a glitch with the particular Echo Dot speaker and that Alexa misunderstood the conversation as a command. The woman said the device never told them it was preparing to send the recording.

"The person on the other line said, 'Unplug your Alexa devices right now, '" she said.

According to market research group eMarketer, more than 60 million USA consumers will use a smart speaker at least once a month this year, with more than 40 million of them using Amazon's devices.

One family is looking at their Amazon Alexa unit with a bit more caution after recent events.

The acquaintance played back the recorded conversations, which were just as he'd described, and Danielle came to the realisation that their conversation had been recorded and sent to someone 176 miles away without her knowledge. It then interpreted the conversation between the woman and her husband as a command to send a message. She also said the devices can control heating, lighting, and her security system.

The report said the family was alerted by a colleague in Seattle who had received the audio file.

Amazon has offered to "de-provision" her devices from the internet, meaning they would still be able to use the Smart Home features, but it wouldn't be able to send messages outside the home.

Amazon told KIRO 7 that what happened was "an extremely rare occurrence", and that they are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.

Amazon has apologized for the incident, but for anyone concerned about privacy this is unlikely to be enough.

  • Latoya Cobb