A Portland, Oregon family has claimed that their Amazon Echo recorded a conversation and then sent it to a random person on their contact list. Two weeks ago, the person -- an employee of the husband -- sent them audio files of their chats that he'd received from their smart speaker.
The family had set up a household of Alexa-equipped devices to control heat, lights and security. When the incident happened, the family unplugged them all and contacted Amazon.
"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!" the wife told KIRO 7.
When reached for comment, the tech giant provided the following statement to KIRO 7; "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."
Amazon reportedly offered to 'de-provision' the family's Alexa communications to keep using the device suite's smart home functionality, but they're seeking a full refund.
Update 4:58 PM ET: Amazon provided this explanation of events to Engadget detailing how the background conversation activated the family's Alexa-powered Echo, which interpreted words within the family's chatter as particular commands:
"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?" 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."