What the Tech: Alexa is listening

Local News

If you’re one of the millions of people with an Amazon Alexa device, be aware: she’s always listening.

Last week, an Alexa user discovered her secret conversations had been shared with all of her friends, and she’s maybe even recorded some of your conversations too.

“Alexa, are you always listening?” You bet she is, not only listening, but recording and saving “response from Alexa.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a couple who’s personal conversation was secretly recorded by an Alexa device, then sent it as a message to a friend. Amazon explains it happened because the device heard, or at least interpreted something it heard as the “wake word,” Alexa, then interpreted something that sounded like “send message,” and then the confirmation “yes.” Amazon said it was an “extremely rare occurrence”, but she’s recorded your conversations.

Here’s how to find out what she’s heard you say: go into the Alexa app and choose settings. At the bottom of that screen, tap the word “history,” You’ll see everything she’s heard you say after she hears “Alexa” or the wake word you’ve chosen. Dozens, maybe hundreds of conversations. When you see one that says “text not available,” you can tap it to hear what Alexa secretly recorded.

Like this conversation from earlier this month while I recorded a podcast: “(random conversation)” or this one when she heard the wake word “Echo” in a tv show playing in the background.
“Echo, how much is retired FBI agent in the last man to confront one of the FBI.”

You can change the wake word from Alexa to Echo, Amazon or computer if she’s leaping into action too often. Amazon would be helpful if it added the word “hey” to the wake word. Google has done that with its voice assistants and only responds when I say “Hey, google.”

You can disable the microphone on the device, but that will pretty much render the device useless. My suggestion is to turn up the volume on Alexa devices, so you can hear when they begin recording and stop her before she does something.

That’s What The tech? I’m Jamey Tucker.

In response to the couple’s conversation being sent to a friend, Amazon said it is evaluating options to make incidences like that one less likely.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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