It was bound to happen. People smarter, or more paranoid, than us have already pointed out how these always listening speakers are disasters waiting to happen unless their manufacturers quickly plug up holes and perfect their voice recognition systems. Nowhere has that warning been brought to its most comical conclusion than in a recent episode of South Park that has Amazon’s Echo devices going crazy everywhere. Fortunately this time for laughs rather than hair-tearing frustration.
This is hardly the first time smart speakers have been violated by what’s on TV and, given how Alexa works, it might not be the last for Amazon’s personal assistant. The first recorded mishap was when a TV anchor caused Amazon Echoes all over the country to put in an order for dollhouses.
Ever since then, this situation has become a running joke among tech circles or even late night shows that want to pull a hi-tech joke. Things took a rather sour turn when a Burger King ad tried to exploit that loophole, which was both hailed as advertising genius but also chided for its poor taste.
Fortunately, South Park’s first episode in its 21st season is all in good humor, regardless of whether you take to the show’s brand of humor or not. Without spoiling anything, the show has Cartman using his own Amazon Echo, which, naturally, has every viewer’s Echo responding in the same way. Suffice it to say, don’t be surprised to find your shopping list populated with unwanted stuff. Fortunately, it won’t actually cause you to purchase anything.
While it may be hilarious, it highlights the dire need for smart speakers, especially the Amazon Echo, to implement better screening of owners’ voices. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done and even Google only recently implemented multi-user support for the Google Home. It might be all innocent (or not so innocent) fun for now, but only time will tell when it turns into an actual liability.