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Former Amazon executive admits he switches Alexa speaker off 'when he wants privacy'

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Amazon Echo Plus - is it listening to you? (Getty)

Many of us worry that Amazon’s all-conquering Echo speakers might be listening in to our most intimate conversations - and it seems the web giant’s own bosses are no exception.

A former executive at the online retail company admitted that he switches off his Echo device whenever he wants privacy as he fears it eavesdropping.

Robert Frederick, an ex-manager at Amazon Web Services, told a BBC documentary that he turns off his Echo device during personal or sensitive conversations.

Frederick told Panorama, “Whoever owns, collects the data, if you have access to it, and rights to data, then you are king. It's all about the data. Everything.”

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A spokesperson for Amazon said that Frederick’s quotes “do not accurately portray how Alexa works. At Amazon, we take privacy very seriously and designing Alexa was no different.

“Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word.

“Customers can review and delete voice recordings at any time in the Alexa app, as well as choose to have them automatically deleted every three or 18 months on an ongoing basis.”

In 2018, a woman complained that her Alexa had listened in one of her private conversations and transmitted it to her friend.

The woman, named only as Danielle, told Portland radio station KIRO 7 that she received a call from a friend warning her she had been “hacked”.

The device had recorded and transmitted a whole private conversation; thankfully, just one about hardwood floors.

Danielle said: “We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house...

“I felt invaded. Immediately, I said, ‘I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.’”

Amazon said that the device appeared to have switched on by accident and transmitted a voice message, saying it was a “rare occurrence”.

A spokesman said: “Echo woke up due to a word in a 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?’

“At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list.”