Not Good: Alexa Records and Shares Woman's Private Conversation (Update)

Editors' Note: Updated with comment from Amazon at 5:23 p.m. ET

A woman in Portland, Ore. claims that her family's Amazon Alexa smart speaker recorded a private conversation and sent it to someone on her contact list, KIRO 7 News reports.

The woman, named only as Danielle, received a phone call from one of her husband's employees in Seattle, who received a recording of the conversation. On KIRO's video, Danielle holds up a number of Echo Dots, claiming that "it was one of these that sent it."

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she told KIRO news. "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.'"

MORE: How to Make Sure Alexa, Google Home Don't Hear Too Much

She claims that after calling Amazon, an engineer on the Alexa team investigated and concurred that this indeed happened.

"Amazon takes privacy very seriously," Amazon said in a statement to KIRO 7. "We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future."

In a statement provided to Tom's Guide today (May 24), Amazon blamed the incident on a series of misunderstandings:

“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 customers 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.”

In the meantime, if you don't want your Echo devices listening when you're not expecting it, you can press the hardware button to disable the microphone. That's not ideal, though, as you'll have to turn it on and off and may not stop other queries from being transmitted.

Andrew E. Freedman

Andrew E. Freedman is an editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming as well as keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag, Complex, Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag among others.

  • Finstar
    I don't think a person who installs one of these in their home values their privacy that much anyway.
    I mean you're literally giving these big companies a way to listen to you 24/7.
  • jvanwie22
    @Finstar, oh you mean like carrying a hot mic cellphone around?
  • AngelaMissouri
    20/7? I was sure that there were 24 hours in a day. Hmmm.
  • hlema
    Another Device to make me lazy I will try to live without it.
  • richard10570
    I don't think I need any of these devices. The just make life more complicated.
  • phantom_e
    Good thing it was just about hardwood floors! :D
  • USAFRet
    My Alexa is exactly where it needs to be, in the ON state it needs to be.
    On the shelf in the Amazon warehouse, turned off, in the box.
  • joelwexler
    20996964 said:
    @Finstar, oh you mean like carrying a hot mic cellphone around?
    Probably our smart TV's too. I shower in the dark with a burka on.
  • Patrick_1966
    Luddites revolt. Destroy your technology. Stone tablets are the only secure medium for communicating. Read only the sacred text of your gods and none of the blasphemous drivel produced by those who seek profit. Buy not good or services. seek independence from your fellow man. Forsake all that is electrical..