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Alexa snooping: Some digital assistants are ‘smarter’ than you think

There is no doubt digital assistants are a more practical option than their human counterparts, and those who buy them might be thinking that machines would be more trustworthy than humans. But, we are living in an era where computers are rapidly outsmarting humanity. Sadly, most of the technologies that support the modern-day conveniences come with a price.

That’s exactly what happened to a couple living in Portland, Oregon, who was shocked to find that an Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa home assistant had recorded their conversation and sent the audio clip to a random person in their contact list. The incident has raised fresh questions about the reliability of the privacy protection features installed in such devices. In other words, are the benefits they offer worth the risks involved in their usage?

By recording a private conversation through the Echo speakers and sending it to someone without being asked to do so, Alexa has done an irreversible damage. For those who use Alexa, it will be bizarre to think that some of their conversations might have been recovered without their knowledge.

The matter came to light when Ms. Danielle got a call from her husband’s friend saying he had received an audio snippet of a conversation she had with her husband, about home décor. Danielle’s response to the whole episode was: “a total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.”

Alexa recorded private conversation of a Portland couple and sent the audio clip to a random person

According to an Amazon spokesperson, probably this is how it happened: Echo picked a part of the conversation that sounded like ‘Alexa’ and ‘send message’. Typically, in that mode, the device will be looking for more voice commands. Then, it interpreted some of the words spoken in the background as the name of the person who received the text message containing the audio clip.

This theory has a flaw – Alexa always cross-checks the voice commands by repeating them, and it is unlikely that each time the sounds were misinterpreted in such a way that a complete task was finally accomplished.

Smart devices linked to the internet are currently a fad in the American households. Many families have installed several of them oblivious to the fact that connected devices such as speakers, microphones and cameras can be manipulated remotely, or, they can develop snags, resulting in serious privacy issues.

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