Another day, another stop in the ‘privacy breach’ journey of IoT.
In a startling and alarming incident, a Portland, Oregon based woman named ‘Danielle’ has accused Amazon Alexa of recording her personal conversation with her husband and sending it to a contact without permission.
As reported by local TV station Kiro 7, Danielle received a call from her husband’s colleague saying “Unplug your Alexa devices right now,” “You’re being hacked” after he received personal conversations of the couple in the form of audio files. (The caller confirmed the couple whether they were talking about Hardwood floorings after listening to the received audio files in which hardwood floorings were mentioned).
The affected couple has four Amazon Alexa devices in their home which they use for controlling electrical devices and appliances. Upon receiving the call, they immediately unplugged off the devices and reported the unnerving incident to Amazon.
Amazon, later, confirmed the eavesdropping incident after checking the log of the devices. Initially, the officials responded by saying, “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
When the issue spread like wildfire, Amazon was forced to explain the incident amidst rising criticism. In an official statement released by the Jeff Bezos owned company has averted the accusation by reporting it as an incident involving a misinterpretation of commands rather than a case of privacy breach.
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?”
The background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
The episode has raised concerns regarding “hearing” abilities of smart assistants. It is the need of the hour that companies take strict actions and implement more intelligent technologies to bar devices from snooping on conversations.