Alexa is always listening—and sometimes recording.
One Portland family recently discovered their Amazon Echo's sneaky capabilities after getting a call from someone in their contact list in Seattle telling them to unplug their Alexa-enabled devices immediately.
Washington station KIRO 7 was contacted by Danielle, a Portland woman who declined to share her last name, after her family's digital assistant recorded and sent audio files of private conversations to one of her husband's employees in Seattle.
"Unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" the contact reportedly told Danielle. "You're being hacked."
"At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!'" Danielle told KIRO. "And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'Oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"
In a statement sent to KIRO, Amazon claimed that the mishap was due to Alexa mishearing commands.
"Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like 'Alexa,'" Amazon's statement reads. "Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a 'send message' request. At which point, Alexa said out loud 'To whom?' At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer's 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."
Danielle says she immediately unplugged all the smart devices—which were connected to every room of the house to control light, heat and the security system—after learning about the privacy breech.
"I felt invaded," she told KIRO. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"
Amazon offered to "de-provision" the family's Alexa so that they could continue using the other Smart Home features, but Danielle says she just wants a refund.