Amazon’s Alexa Snafu Should Be a Turning Point for Tech

Posted On May 25, 2018 1:29 pm

Alexa is listening to us after all. A married Seattle couple found out that their Amazon Echo had sent their friend a recording of a private conversation they were having about hardwood floors. “My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,’” said the woman who would come to learn that she had been betrayed by her live-in robot assistant.

An acquaintance who received the recording of their conversation called her with a warning: “Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.”

It honestly sounds too crazy to be true. But this isn’t some crank conspiracy. Amazon admitted the couple was telling the truth. The world’s second-most valuable company said in a statement: “We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.” Amazon says that the Echo thought it heard a series of commands, including “Alexa” and “send message,” instructing it to send the audio files.

Twitter joked that this was Alexa’s first butt dial.

It’s hard not feel vindicated. Not that Alexa-as-opt-in-Amazon-surveillance-program has been a particular hobbyhorse of mine. (I have an Alexa-powered Echo at home that’s not going anywhere.) But time and again the obvious, paranoid-sounding, dystopia-minded critique seems to come true! Apple really does throttle old phones. Facebook really did run Russian ads designed to influence the election. Juicero really was selling squeezable juice packets.

Honestly, I just think it’s worth stewing over the fact that these problems were so obvious, not just in retrospect, but when they were first announced. This is far from the only recent example of tech overlord obliviousness: How was Google taken by surprise when people were upset that it planned to use artificial intelligence to impersonate human callers?

Continue Reading at Bloomberg.com

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