back to article TV anchor says live on-air 'Alexa, order me a dollhouse' – guess what happens next

A San Diego TV station sparked complaints this week – after an on-air report about a girl who ordered a dollhouse via her parents' Amazon Echo caused Echoes in viewers' homes to also attempt to order dollhouses. Telly station CW-6 said the blunder happened during a Thursday morning news package about a Texan six-year-old who …

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      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Could help reduce Piracy.

        No, he got it right. The idea is that pirate tracks will contain Alexa commands in the beginning, basically forcing pirates to buy excessive music to make up for them not buying music normally.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Could help reduce Piracy.

          Oh, and another nasty touch. According to their official policy, digital downloads of movies or music are not returnable.

  1. james.aka.damingo
    Pint

    I have an amazon dash button (it amused me to have a button to order loo roll); and yes guests who use the facilities push the button for sh#ts and giggles (pun intended). But each time they do it pops up on my phone saying "Giant box of andrex on its way" (or something like that); so I just hit the "woops didn't mean to do that button" and the order never gets placed.

    You also get emails for every amazon order you make within seconds; if you have an Amazon Echo in the house I am sure you also have a smart phone that picks up your emails. Are the parents of this little (very smart) girl claiming they didn't get the email and didn't think to cancel the order?

    Me thinks that someone might just be after a quick 5 minutes of fame.

    As for how well all these things work; if only my Google Phone and Watch could realise I don't want them both to 'OK Google' at the same time!

    --Beer icon for when I can say "ok google drive my self driving car to the pub and get me a pint of what ever guest ale they have today; and on the way back can you find the deliveroo guy with my curry and give him a lift. Also record it all in the intake screen on my fitbit app please".

    1. kwhitefoot

      How often do you check your email and how long is the grace period? I would have to make a special effort to check my personal email more than twice a week by which time the order would surely have been dispatched.

      1. d3vy Silver badge

        "How often do you check your email and how long is the grace period? I would have to make a special effort to check my personal email more than twice a week by which time the order would surely have been dispatched."

        Email : During business hours I get a notification of an email pretty much instantly (Uses push notifications) Weekends and evenings, my phone checks once every 30 minutes, it vibrates if it gets an email.. so well within any grace period that they would have.

        The other poster also pointed out that the amazon app sends push notifications of orders to the users phone... I can confirm that this happens with other purchases online as when I buy on amazon I get a notification from amazon that Ive bought something, then another from paypal to confirm that Ive paid for it... I then get an "Item dispatched" notification and normally an "Item Delivered" one when Im at work - the wife gets the same notifications from my account on her phone.

        I cant imagine that they would have done so much work to keep users up to date on their orders and not integrate the same into alexa... thinking about it as alexa will be feeding into the same back end order processing system there is zero chance that they didnt get at least one notification sent to some device be it a puch to the amazon app or a simple email.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Unless, of couse, such things were never set up in the first place. The wrong e-mail address, no app, notifications turned off due to inbox spam, any number of cracks to fall through...

          1. tiggity Silver badge

            The Amazon app wants far too many permissions - I never installed it on my phone (like the majority of apps, if something asks for access to functionality outside of its core use it remains uninstalled) - and it;s a install pain for some users as its a non Google Play app so needs you to enable non "approved" apk installs, so possible lots of people do not have Amazon app but might use Amazon.

            1. james.aka.damingo

              The amazon app is in Google Play (most of their apps are https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Amazon+Mobile+LLC&hl=en_GB) so no "install pain" at all.

      2. james.aka.damingo

        My phone goes "PING" (or some noise along those lines) when I get an email. In this day and age (much like soviet Russia) I don't check my email, my email checks me.

        I am however permanently connected to the inter-webs in some way or other as I am that sort of person (currently reading the reg and ignoring the software I am meant to be writing; I blame the dog for making me get up so early so it could pee).

        I do however take your point; but not paying attention to the notification doesn't absolve the person in the original post. They may not have purchased the echo but they turned it on and set it up; so they know what it could do and what steps they should have taken to be "safe" (checking their emails, etc).

  2. SteveCo

    My echo picked up something being said on the TV and suddenly blurted out "do you want me to order your dog food?" and waited for a confirmation. Surprised, I said No and the order attempt was cancelled. Straight after, I disabled the voice ordering. :)

    Oh, we don't even have a dog.

    I can see someone in advert land rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of their new TV ad...

    "You too can have the great Widget in your house. And remember you can order through Alexa... Order Widget NOW!.... Yes Don't delay. It will be loved by you and your family".

    Honest judge, I didn't realise that would happen.

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      "Honest judge, I didn't realise that would happen."

      "And the cost of processing all of the returns & refunds has pretty much bankrupted us..."

      Seriously, do you think that they would do this on purpose? Yes they might initially enjoy extra sales, but to do so they would have to package and ship the item, lets look at that...

      Item Cost + Packaging + Labour + Delivery Cost

      When the user recieves the unwanted goods the retailer has to

      Process the return (Additional Labour cost), refund the sale cost, write of the inital delivery, packaging & labour costs (Along with any transaction fees for their payment provider) then they are left with an item that they probably cant resell as new...

      Ive worked on backend systems in a fulfillment company, the returns cost money to process... no one wants a large quantity of returns.

      Then of course you have the fact that the customers that you have pissed off may not order from you again.

      In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        "In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)"

        You realise we're talking about marketeers, not people?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          You ever thought he could be absolutely sincere? I don't think gross stupidity is a crime yet.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Plus, what if the Alexas are conned into doing digital downloads instead? Last I checked, these CAN'T be returned.

      3. Kiwi
        Holmes

        Process the return (Additional Labour cost), refund the sale cost, write of the inital delivery, packaging & labour costs (Along with any transaction fees for their payment provider) then they are left with an item that they probably cant resell as new...

        EVERY online shopping thing I've seen1 has charged packaging and shipping separate to the item cost, and also made return shipping the responsibility of the receiver. And "I don't want it" may not be enough to get a refund in many jurisdictions, because you did enable the system that is now well known to order whatever follows "Alexa" in it's2 hearing. Not Amazon's fault if you didn't fix the settings on their system now that it has made international headlines more than once. Been in all the major news media, not their fault you didn't change it.

        Then of course you have the fact that the customers that you have pissed off may not order from you again.

        I will never shop from Amazon aga OHLOOKNEWCHEAPSHINY! MUSTHAVENOW!

        People will go where the cheap is, not where their morales/integrity/past vows say they should. Otherwise Amazon wouldn't exist and small local retailers (who give a hell of a lot better overall service for a tiny amount more price, and often a cheaper price for a better product with real product knowledge) would be booming.

        In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)

        If TPPA was to get in, there would be no consumer laws. Well, none that are friendly to the consumer anyway.

        1I'm one of those weird freaks who generally prefers to see an item first-hand before deciding to buy, so I haven't seen a lot of such things. But I have seen things like a certain big box chain in NZ where you can order items to be picked up in store, and you get charged freight even if the item is part of their normal stock.

        2Yes, the apostrophe probably should be there, shows ownership in the same way as eg "in Paul's hearing".

        1. Vic

          Yes, the apostrophe probably should be there

          No, it shouldn't.

          Vic.

          1. Kiwi
            Facepalm

            You weren't supposed to answer. I was trying to bait some of the less intelligent/more feisty commentards! :)

            [If you buy that rather than I had a coffee-lack/wrong website reading induced brainfart, I have a large English bridge to sell you, or some special patch cables that improve the streaming of your MP3's, only $8,500 saving you $1,500!]

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    Be careful what you wish for

    A cold morning, chap cleans the ice off of his car windscreen and walks back into his house.

    Without thinking he remarks to his robobutler "Fuck me it's cold out there"

    The butler replies; "At once Sir........"

  4. Mycho Silver badge

    Life imitating Dilbert

    I remember Wally developed a habit of saying "Delete file" in a loud voice when the company started trialing voice activated computers.

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Life imitating Dilbert

      Ninety-Nine ! Ninety-Nine ! Ninety-Nine ! (Jump to 54 seconds if this link doesn't take you there)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Life imitating Dilbert

        "Jump to 54 seconds if this link doesn't take you there)"

        Nice! I didn't know you could put a time index into a Youtube link.

        You just made this years subscription to El Reg worth every penny and it's still only January!

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Life imitating Dilbert

      It may be apocryphal, but I recall a tale of a (DOS-era) voice recognition demo, where some wag in the audience shouted out "FORMAT SPACE C COLON SPACE FORWARD SLASH Y".

  5. Kiwi
    Devil

    What fun to be had..

    Now, who do I know, and dislike, who has one of these and an old-school answerphone.. Just need to phone when they're out..

    "Alexa, order me some vibrators, extra large..."Alexa, large shipment of adult diapers" "Alexa, a dozen blow-up dolls please, male" (or female if the hated one is female, black for racists, you get the idea..)

    Or more fun/sinister... "Alexa, order me a length of rubber hose." "Alexa, order me a ski mask." "Alexa, order me a bear trap" (oblig XKCD https://xkcd.com/576/ )

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: What fun to be had..

      "Alexa, order me a Make America Great Again baseball cap."

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Computer security? problems have only just begun

    > That, apparently, was enough to set off Alexa-powered Echo boxes around San Diego on their own shopping sprees.

    If all that happened was that some people got an unwanted order, they got off lightly.

    Hopefully the next time, it won't be something like Alexa, send $1000 to this charity, then close my account and delete all my files

    The opportunities for voice-recognised security breaches make ordinary, I.P. security look like Fort Knox by comparison. Just imagine how much damage could be caused by the person at the next desk (or the next table in the cafe) recording your conversation, editing in or out the choice words and then replaying your own voice to make your voice-operated phone / device do bad things.

    Voice operation is intrinsically insecure. We have enough trouble with systems that are, at least, theoretically securable. These systems seem to be unfixable without completely removing the convenience that is their biggest attraction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

      So what happens when intrinsically insecure options are ALL YOU HAVE? And you're still expected to present a solution or you don't get paid and they also threaten to get you blacklisted so you won't get hired anywhere else?

      1. Kiwi
        WTF?

        Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

        So what happens when intrinsically insecure options are ALL YOU HAVE? And you're still expected to present a solution or you don't get paid and they also threaten to get you blacklisted so you won't get hired anywhere else?

        And aside from one or two negative poster's dreamworlds, where would that happen?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

          The world going forward, where businesses have more power than the employees and now have increasing clout in legislatures to strip employees of what few rights they have left. And if worst comes to worst, well that's where the combat drones come in...

  7. Oh Homer Silver badge
    Coat

    Alexa!

    Give a a million quid and a date with Jennifer Laurence!

    Nope?

    1. Kiwi
      Gimp

      Re: Alexa!

      "Getting you.. raped by a million queers.."..

  8. Panicnow

    NOt the broadcasters problem

    Why is this problem being characterised as a broadcasters problem, it is Amazon problem!

  9. localzuk

    PIN!

    If you buy something with the ability to purchase things easily, make sure you enable the PIN functionality.

    OK, on Alexa it isn't that secure as you have to say the PIN out loud, but it'd stop accidental purchases!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: PIN!

      But a spoken PIN is dead easy to recognize AND record from a distance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spoken PIN! ADT Alarm Systems demonstrated this at CES!

      Exactly, I couldn't believe the ADT Alarm Guy at CES though it might be a good idea to use Alexa and a spoken pin to disable your house alarm. Too easy to place a voice activated recording device to pick this up, if that home is being targeted.

  10. Sir Barry

    Speak?

    I got a computer so I wouldn't have to speak.

    *sigh*

    1. Kiwi
      Coat

      Re: Speak?

      I got a computer so I wouldn't have to speak.

      Hey! for some of us that's the only intelligent conversation available! (and it keeps the men in the white coats a bit happier)

  11. Peter Clarke 1

    Comedy Material From the 70s

    I remember it as a sketch from Dave Allen on the BBC in the 70s with a voice controlled chair being demonstrated to a friend

    feet up- good

    back down - good

    Well, bugger me- Noooo!!!!!!!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Comedy Material From the 70s

      Remember the Clapper? I think it was Not Necessarily The News that did an ad about running a Clapper ad in a room with the TV plugged into a Clapper. Hilarity Ensued.

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I entered my home number into my car phone. The first time I used voice command to call home it told me it didn't have an entry. I got it to read out the entries and it pronounced it "hume", i.e. the pronunciation used by the former Prime Minister. Presumably the makers think more of their customers know someone called Home than have homes to go to.

    They need to sort this out before self-driving cars come onto the market. Come out of the pub, get into the car and get driven to a suburb of Manchester.

  13. Moonunit

    Just ... why?

    Unless you're in need of an enabling tool to overcome a disability, WHY O WHY would you want to sound like an oversized dildo and talk to a bloody marketing droid from 'mazon or 'oogle? (or anyone else for dat matter).

    Convenience is a kak excuse ... so, try me.

    OK, I concede that I come from an era where we made stuff, pondered what we may need (shockingly, AHEAD of time!), and other really stupid stuff. Now you pay someone to send you a droid which then sucks what remains of your privacy, while charging you for the privilege - and pushing crappy tosh at you.

    Yay progress, Enjoy kids, I am off to deal with 6 feet of snow and real stuff.

    (Oh yeah, got to upvote the comments re voice recognition having worked tolerably well on purely local devices ... w/out the need to phone home!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just ... why?

      > you pay someone to send you a droid

      The beginning of the "Protocol Droid"

  14. kmac499

    Alexa or Lintilla clones

    Until the purveyors of these cloned personal voice activated assistants allow me to set the name of my device. I ain't buying one,

    Now here's a thought if we had multiple wake words we could configure the box to support multiple personalities for the multiple people in the house?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Alexa or Lintilla clones

      Then you're at a dilemma. The reason for fixed watch words is to conserve battery (the waveforms are in ROM). So you either have a battery-sipper with a fixed vocabulary or a dynamic battery hog. And while you can opt for meither, many will DEMAND it. Out voted by the stupid.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Leaving your Christmas presents in full, has new meaning.

    I can see this ending badly for the next Amazon Echo on full view, sitting on the front Window sill. No need to steal it, just speak to it.

  16. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    Confirmation?

    These devices should be programmed to ask you for confirmation on purchases by default. It's just stupid not to. And ultimately costly for Amazon with all the potential for returns at their expense. I'll bet if you said "Alexa, cancel my Amazon account and all pending orders", that they'd ask you for confirmation :)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Confirmation?

      Then the NEXT version of the prank will insert a two-second pause followed by "Yes!" to include the confirmation phrase. Which means confirmation MUST be out of band. Trouble is, not everyone has a second factor with which to do this.

      And no, one one will be willing to get up and push a button to confirm. Otherwise, they'd never be using voice activation in the first place.

  17. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

    A many-years-old story - almost certainly apocryphal - tells of a press release/demonstration of "...the very latest voice recognition software! So advanced, it does not have to be 'trained'!! It understands any user immediately!!!..."

    To which, some wag at the back of the room called out "Format C colon return yes return."

  18. Andrew Jones 2

    And before long - the actual adverts will likely take advantage of this fact by saying something like - take advantage of this offer by simply saying "Alexa, book me a test drive with Nissan". "Alex, add tampons to my shopping list", "Alexa, subscribe to amazon prime"

    After all - how many people actually sit and watch the adverts.

  19. d3vy Silver badge

    From now on the first thing I say when entering a friends house will be "Alexa, order me a rubber horse cock" *

    * Anatomically correct animal dildos are a thing now apparently - I thought it would be funny to search for ridiculous things on a friends PC thereby messing up the ads that he sees online for the foreseeable future - the mental images I am now stuck with were NOT worth it.

    1. x 7 Silver badge

      d3vy

      Imagine Amazon accidentally delivering this

      https://www.amazon.com/18-5-Inch-Trojan-Horse-Dildo/dp/B007I6Z4KA

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