One family is looking at their Amazon Alexa unit with a bit more caution after recent events. A woman named Danielle from Portland, Oregon claims a private conversation was recorded by the device and then send over 170 miles to the phone of a complete stranger in Seattle, Washington.
“My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,'” Danielle, who declined to give her last name, told local media.
Danielle explained her whole house was wired with Amazon devices, something not uncommon for fans of the Alexa units. She also said the devices can control heating, lighting, and her security system.
However, that changed after she got a phone call she was not expecting approximately two weeks ago from a man she did not know.
"The person on the other line said, 'Unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" she said. "'You're being hacked.'"
That man wound up being one of her husband's employees who was calling from Seattle, Danielle explained. She quickly set out to unplug every Amazon Alexa unit in the house.
"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'No, you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said, 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'Oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"
While the conversation seemed relatively mild on the surface, the knowledge that someone could hear an intimate conversation still doesn't sit well with Danielle -- even if the conversation was about hardwood flooring.
"I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately, I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again because I can't trust it.'"
Danielle and her husband also contacted Amazon engineers and developers to see if this was a more widespread problem than they anticipated. According to Danielle, the Amazon employee didn't tell her whether anyone else encountered this issue. He also didn't explain why it could have happened.
"They said, 'Our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us; they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes, and he said, 'We really appreciate you bringing this to our attention; this is something we need to fix!'"
As for some semblance of an explanation, Danielle said it was vague.
"He told us that the device just guessed what we were saying," she said.
The company responded to the story to local media, offering this statement:
“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."
The company has since asked Danielle if she and her husband wanted to disable the Alexa communication by putting it into a "de-provisioned" mode. However, one thing is certain: Danielle won't be using Amazon's Alexa anytime in the near future.
"A husband and wife in the privacy of their home have conversations that they're not expecting to be sent to someone (in) their address book," she said.
Interesting Engineering will continue to follow this story and update it with further information.