What was supposed to be the fastest growing market in consumer tech came to a screeching halt last week when it was revealed and acknowledged that Amazon’s Alexa secretly and mistakenly sent the recording of a private conversation to a random contact from the owner’s phonebook. That has led to many crying foul over Amazon’s practices to paranoia about smart speakers in general. Echos and Homes, however, are undeniably convenient and you might be anxiously considering getting an Amazon Echo. If so, then you might want to skip turning on its calling feature if you’re unlikely to use in the first place.
Smart speakers are convenient because they can do things for you just by verbally asking them too and without having to press a button. The latter is possibly only because these speakers are always listening for a keyboard. But that can also be its Achilles’ heel, as it is possible to have the speaker misinterpret words and commands.
That is indeed the bizarre and probably rare incident that happened last week, when Alexa misheard a string of wards and sent a private recording to a random contact. While the bug is definitely tied to the AI’s listening skills, there is also a problem in how Amazon ties the feature deeply into the Echo’s calling feature.
Amazon has also made it extremely difficult to turn the feature off without bending over backwards or, worse, getting in touch with customer support. So the best way to avoid such an incident with new Echo devices and owners is to completely ignore Echo calling functionality. It does mean you won’t be able to make calls through the speaker but it won’t clandestinely record your conversations either.
Sadly, it seems that this feature is exactly what’s becoming popular among smart speakers these days. It was definitely one of the most requested features back during the infancy of the Amazon Echo and Google Home but now users might be rethinking their rush to have those features available.