Artificial intelligence is not in full control just yet. Lurking behind the algorithms contained in Amazon’s smart home tech device, Alexa, are humans capable of making mistakes. One user in Germany found out the hard way according to a new report by Reuters.
The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.
Amazon has attempted to reassure Alexa users that this was an isolated case of human error, but it clearly exposes how easy it is for anyone in the company, or hackers, to obtain anything ever recorded from within private homes and businesses. According to the report, it also took some time for Amazon to address the situation.
The first customer had initially got no reply when he told Amazon about the access to the other recordings, the report said. The files were then deleted from the link provided by Amazon but he had already downloaded them on to his computer, added the report from c’t, part of German tech publisher Heise.
The recordings were detailed enough to have correctly identified the victim of the privacy breach and alert them about the situation. Quite a comforting thought…
On the recordings, a man and a female companion could be overheard in his home and the magazine was able to identify and contact him through the recorded information, according to the report.
Although Amazon claims this is an isolated incident, it’s not the first time that data has inadvertently been sent to other users. Local news station KIRO7 also reported back in May that a woman in Portland discovered that one of her audio recordings was sent to someone from her contact list who was located in Seattle.
“My husband and I would joke and say I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,” said Danielle, who did not want us to use her last name.
Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home’s heat, lights and security system.
But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'”
That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle.
“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'”
Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn’t believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.
“I felt invaded,” she said. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'”
Danielle says she unplugged all the devices, and she repeatedly called Amazon. She says an Alexa engineer investigated.
“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!”
But Danielle says the engineer did not provide specifics about why it happened, or if it’s a widespread issue.
As I’ve previously reported, these types of data and privacy breaches have become a near-daily occurrence as the use of smart technology has proliferated. Moreover, these invasions have taken place despite having supposedly the best technology and privacy safeguards money can buy at the biggest tech companies in the world. We also have to consider the many cases that probably never get discovered or reported.
On top of all this, we have the legal system still trying to work through the implications of this heightened level of access. There are an increasing number of alleged crimes being detected from data supplied by smart devices. The very nature of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution appears to be at stake as law enforcement feels entitled to have access to our data, of course to ensure our safety and bring criminals to justice.
I have previously written about several other cases where alleged crimes have been reported by home gadgets like Amazon’s Echo, smart meters, Fitbits and more. Google Nest was recently revealed to have become the first company in the world to have cooperated with police to release footage from its live camera feeds.
While courts don’t seem to have adopted any universal rules of the road for data admission, the most recent cases offer some pretty clear writing on the wall that we could see the American justice system rewritten to include in-home consumer devices as valid tools of law enforcement. As this information becomes more widely used, will we begin seeing false arrests based upon faulty digital readings and/or hacks?
In the meantime, we should at least be asking ourselves if smart technology is truly smart enough yet to be so readily integrated into every facet of our lives.
Nicholas West writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon for as little as $1 per month. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.
Top image credit: BoingBoing