Jeremy Herold

Does Having Smart Devices in the Home Come at the Cost of Privacy?

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Amazon’s Alexa recorded this family’s conversation and sent it to a contact.

 

Using technology to handle the running of our homes has always carried the inherent privacy concerns that come with having devices that are attuned to always listen to conversations going on around them. Does the loss or potential loss of our privacy come at a little too steep of a price?

One family in Portland certainly thinks so. One of their Amazon devices recorded their private conversation and sent it to someone on their contact list. They didn’t even realize that it had happened until the contact called them thinking that the family devices had been hacked.

After the family made repeated calls to Amazon, and then finally a local news organization, Amazon released a statement.

Shelby Lichiter from Amazon explained what happened as,

“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 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.”

Though Amazon is saying that the device was speaking aloud and asking command questions, the family states that they had no idea the device was recording their conversation and that the device did not audibly advise them that it was preparing to send the recording as it is programmed to do.

Every room in their home had been equipped with Amazon devices in order to control their home’s security system, heat and lights. That is no longer the case, as the family feels their trust was violated and that they cannot trust the devices any longer.

Amazon released a second statement that reads,

“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.” 

While Amazon offered to “de-provision” the family’s Alexa communication devices so that they could keep using them for their Smart Home Features, the family has opted to discontinue the use of the devices permanently.

The family summed up the privacy situation perfectly by stating,

“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.”

It’s pretty apparent that Amazon has some potential breach of privacy issues to work out with their devices. Hopefully, they can get the problems figured out before any other families experience the same “extremely rare occurrence.”

As always, if we can be of help with your network or computer, give us a call here at Rhyno Networks. (855) 749-6648

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