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Is Alexa Recording Your Conversations Without a Wake Word?

I know, I know. I sound like on of those paranoid nuts in a sci-fi film. Unfortunately, it seems that I am not. Having stumbled upon an eye-opening article on Reuters that was recently published, I wanted to do a bit more research.

Amazon has sold in excess of 10 MILLION Alexa Echo devices worldwide. (Levy, Nat, 8 May 2017, Geekwire) That figure alone is staggering! We are told that Alexa has a wake word. Mainly calling it by name ‘Alexa’. This will start a recording and you can gain information from the device. However, as many people assume that the device will cease all functioning and sleep completely when it is done with the task at hand. Not so. Amit Ashbel, director of product marketing for a research firm, told CNET that there is “a flaw in Alexa that allowed the device to continue recording indefinitely.” (Kosoff, Maya, 24 May 2018, Vanity Fair)

It seems to be common knowledge that Alexa is recording at times, but people seem to just dismiss it as a glitch. Maybe Alexa misunderstood, etc.  Unfortunately to say, I have spent some time reading about Alexa online. Only on reputable news sites. And I can safely say that yes, Alexa is recording you – even without your knowledge. And those recordings are accessible to others.

Below are a few straightforward quotes that I found:

“..The privacy implications may be even messier. Consumers might not realize that some of their most sensitive conversations are being recorded by Amazon’s devices, information that could be highly prized by criminals, law enforcement, marketers and others. On Thursday, Amazon said a “human error” let an Alexa customer in Germany access another user’s voice recordings accidentally.” (Dastin, Jeffrey, 21 December 2018, Reuters)

“How are the privacy concerns surrounding Amazon Echo different than those involving, say, smartphones?

Traditionally, the home has been the apex of 4th Amendment privacy protection in respect to law enforcement. You know, a man’s home is his castle, that sort of thing. You always need a warrant to get into someone’s house. The tricky thing about a device that’s recording data inside of your home is that you may be transmitting that recording in such a way that the government can directly collect it, or, as in the case we have in Arkansas, it may be that the data is sitting on Amazon’s servers.” (Q&A excerpt, French, Agatha, 5 January 2017, LA Times)

 

“We’ve invited these systems into our lives in ways that we are only beginning to see the negative consequences for,” Gillmor said. “There are situations where we don’t need to have these things. A lot of people got the Echo because they feel like it’s this magic thing. Maybe the magic isn’t worth it.”  (Gillmor, Daniel)

So it seems to me, that if everyone knows that Alexa is recording us in our homes, sales would not be what they are. This is where I get a bit baffled. I mean, who would violate their own privacy in their own homes just to….what, have easier access to information that’s already easily accessible at the touch of a button?

What do you think?

-Mliae

*Sources:

Reuters article (linked)

French, Agatha, 5 January 2017, LA Times

Kosoff, Maya, Vanity Fair, 24 May 2018

Levy, Nat, 8 May 2017, Geek Wire

Soper, Spencer, 24 May 2018, Bloomberg

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27 Comments »

    • And this is exactly the reason I had to write this post. I wasn’t aware that it could record either, until last summer when someone said something about it in passing and my heart went into my throat because we’d just visited someone with one in the main parlor. But even then I thought it needed a command.
      Now I’m curious…what do you call it?

      • We call it Echo because I kept calling it Alexia my daughter changed its name. How does it record did you find out?

      • Well, from what I understand, its kind of always passively listening so it can pickup its name and wake up. It has a tendency to ‘misinterpret’ conversations as commands as it did in Reuters article when it recorded a private convo & sent it to a 3rd party. This is also the concern, that when it begins to record, it can record indefinitely. Creepy. I linked to all the articles at the bottom of the post in the sources.

      • It’s okay… I asked it the first day “Alexa, are you spying on me?” It’s not something I would have purchased for myself. I have wondered about some of the very things you posted about 😊 Merry Christmas 🎄

      • Merry Christmas to you! I am so curious, what did Alexa answer you when you asked?
        I understand the feeling. I have been worried that I would find myself being gifted a smart device at one time or another, and what I would actually do with it, if that ever happened.

      • She referred me to Amazon’s website to read over their privacy policy. I get snarky with her all the time lol. If I’m binge watching something I will ask “Alexa, how many episodes have I watched?” She says something like “ I don’t know that one” I answer her back “ oh… I’ll bet you do. 😉

      • you are shitting (sp?) me ?!?
        Oh, I bet she REALLY does!
        You know, I am not a conspiracy ‘person’. But more and more life seems like something from a sci-fi-fi novella. Am I right?

    • Exactly. Honestly, its just…disturbing. 50 years ago, people were terrified of this exact thing. Now, we not only invite it into our homes but pay a premium price to have it there!

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