When privacy campaigners express concerns about the rise of smart speakers, the suggestion that big-tech firms are ‘listening in’ (and, indeed, potentially recording) private conversations is often raised as a worry.
A story yesterdayabout an Echo recording a conversation between a husband and wife and then sending the audio to someone in their contacts list will only stoke those fears. One of the husband’s employees called the couple explaining that they’d been sent an audio file of them speaking about hardwood floors, recorded in their house.
What’s going on here? Amazon has published an explanation.
“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?’,” said its spokesperson.
“At which point, 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.”
Mark this one down to unintended consequences rather than big-tech spying, then – although Amazon’s worry must be that the original story gets more of an airing than the explanation.