back to article Amazon's Alexa is worst receptionist ever: Crazy exes, stalkers' calls put through automatically

Amazon's voice-controlled assistant Alexa and its Echo devices now sport the ability to take your phone calls – so long as you don't ever plan on ignoring calls from anyone. The Alexa Calling feature, announced by Amazon earlier this week, allows Amazon Echo devices and the Alexa app to place and accept phone calls to and from …

  1. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Internet of tat is tatty.

  2. Packet

    Putting aside the lack of features in the device offering, what bothers me is the level of self-inflicted pain here:

    - keeping phone numbers of self-professed "crazy ex-boyfriends" as contacts instead of deleting them

    - willing to share contact info with a big company (yes, I get it - convenience trumps privacy, etc - but still...)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "convenience trumps privacy"

      Only corporate shills, and people who have fallen for the shilling of corporate shills actually believe this. The rest are blissfully unaware of the consequences for now.

    2. PTW

      How do you think...

      You block calls from "crazy ex-boyfriends" without keeping their number?

      Are you a developer?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: How do you think...

        PTW, doncha know that when a woman makes a complaint it's necessary to point out that all her problems are down to her own cluelessness. Can't have the little ladies getting the idea that they know stuff.

        (/sarc mode)

        (Yes, I know that victim-blaming (i.e. user) is a professional hazard among tech people so maybe the OP was only accidentally being sexist.)

      2. William 3 Bronze badge

        Re: How do you think...

        I don't answer the phone to any unknown numbers. If it's important they will leave a voicemail. Then I will add their number to my contacts.

        If you're getting calls from a crazy ex boyfriend so often then it's a matter for the police and they will stop them doing so.

      3. LDS Silver badge

        Re: How do you think...

        Good developers create a separate blacklist for unwanted callers, don't use the the contacts one...

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Black Betty

      You keep them to block them.

      Landlords and old employers for references.

      One might also ask how many files reside on your computer that have not seen the light of day since their creation.

      Old crap piles up because deleting it is too much bloody trouble.

  3. noddybollock
    Trollface

    Oh FFS !

    HaHaHaHaHaHa.

    BTW what does " ^SB " ?

  4. ma1010 Silver badge
    Alert

    Good thing Amazon don't make cars.

    Yes, we know that brakes are important to many drivers of our cars, and we plan to implement those within a few weeks/months/etc.

    Enjoy life on the bleeding edge, all you early adopters!

  5. joma0711

    Keeping the details of "crazy Ex" in your phone allows you to know when they are calling. Delete the contact, you don't know who is ringing until you pick up.

    1. Michael Hoffmann

      Why wouldn't you just block the number without keeping the contact?

      OK, I guess to answer my own question, unless you need to keep the ID info because you need it as evidence that said ex is breaking the restraining order?

      1. LDS Silver badge
        Joke

        Or maybe someone is just a collector of ex-boyfriends, and like to keep the list, maybe one day it could be useful. Also, for someone, knowing they're still calling may be flattering.

        Although I knew a woman who changed telephone number whenever she terminated a relationship. Surely, a definitive answer to avoid unwanted calls, even if a drastic one with some disadvantages.

    2. mrfantastic

      Exactly.

      I've got a crazy ex who, when she's going through a bout of drinking and self-delusion, will call/text constantly for a few hours.

      I don't remember numbers very well, so why would I delete hers? I certainly dont keep it for drunken booty calls, if anybody is wondering, it would not be worth it.

    3. Packet

      Never thought of that.

      In my experience, I've just deleted the contact and on occasion, added the number to the block list, and gone on with my life closing yet another chapter.

  6. Packet

    Adding the phone number to a block list does not require a contact to be maintained - in my understanding.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That is correct, at least for Android. Maybe iPhones aren't so clever?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Calling Amazon support personally

    to disable a feature ?! WTF is wrong with these developers ? It seems the ability to code totally destroys any other function of their brain.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Calling Amazon support personally

      > WTF is wrong with these developers ? It seems the ability to code totally destroys any other function of their brain.

      This is not a developer issue. It is a XD choice not to include the feature - agreed by both the producer and product manager - then signed off by the product owner.

      Every single element is designed before any developer comes near it.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "Every single element is designed before any developer comes near it"

        And it would seem that those designing the elements have totally failed List Maintenance 101. If you give the user the ability to access a list, the option to delete or modify an element of said list is part of the basic requirements since before I went to Uni in 1991.

        Of course, respecting said basic requirements takes time and money - which are two things that were obviously not important enough to squander next to the ability of touting yet another chat interface. I would say "Congrats, Amazon, you're now on my blacklist" - except that they've been on my blacklist ever since they demonstrated their willingness to go and erase customer purchases on their Kindle without customer approval.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Calling Amazon support personally

        Every single element is designed before any developer comes near it.

        Oh yes? Most of us round here have done some form of software development, and know that there's bad design choices, design and code errors, but IMHO the biggest cause of problems is always "the things that occurred to nobody during the design stages".

        This Alexa issue has a strong smell of that last one, and the (apparent) panic to fix it shows that it isn't something that the designers and developers did deliberately and is a choice they are now prepared to stand by.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Calling Amazon support personally

          Sounds like Agile development to me. Deliver a half-assed product, then add more features to it when you get time.

          But Amazon being Amazon, of course, they see no reason not to launch the product to the public while it's still thoroughly half-assed. They probably call it "beta testing".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Calling Amazon support personally

      You're assuming that it being difficult to disable the feature is an accident, rather than a deliberate decision.

    3. Tikimon Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Calling Amazon support personally

      I blame the modern software tendency to Just Do It For Us. They realized we turn off bull**** functions and/or don't activate cool new spying features, so they program to be default ON, Opted-IN, and no way for us to turn said "features" off.

      Products aren't designed for consumers anymore. They are designed to drive a business model, and they expect us to quietly follow along with whatever asinine scheme they have cooked up. These days that means subscription based spyware and no user control over anything.

      All the IOT disasters are just symptoms of this strategy.

  8. Mage Silver badge

    Baffled

    If a close friend etc gave me ANY of these "home spies", they would mysteriously fail and go to recycling centre.

    These things, and Google TV in present form, ought to be illegal because they are not stand-alone. Corporate spies.

    Ten years ago the voice recognition performance was as good on standalone. The claim that Cloud is needed to process and improve it is distortion. They want to collect all your private information for advertising income.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Baffled

      If a close friend etc gave me ANY of these "home spies", they would mysteriously fail and go to recycling centre.

      I'd sneak into their house and install it there, if possible with the speaker turned off so they wouldn't know it was there.

      What? They started it..

  9. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Next up

    "Amazon Virtual Cloud accepts packets from all comers, on any port"

  10. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Why let Alexa near your contacts in the first place? If 'she' needs a list, have a 'safe' list on a spare phone or webmail account. Laziness then realisation seems to be the girls big problem (as well as buying into the whole Alexa con).

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Who's in charge here: The user or the device?

      Surely the device should be designed to make using it easy for the user.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Surely the device should be designed to make using it easy for the user."

        It is. You just need to remember who's the user. They've made it easier to remember because the name of the service, Alexa, starts with the same letter...

  11. handleoclast
    Flame

    Fail... ail... ail...

    Do I hear an echo of "fail"? I surely do.

    I have installed and then deleted quite a few apps on my android phone. They look good, but when I try them I discover they don't do what I thought, or are flawed in some way. The point is that I can delete them. If I can't then they are malicious apps.

    So once you've installed this Alexa Calling, you can't uninstall it except by calling support? That is totally unfuckingacceptable (forgive my tmesis). Are they channelling Microsoft?

    I'd already decided, for several reasons, that echo was not something I would ever wish to use. I would have said yesterday that it was possible (but unlikely) that Amazon might modify echo to the point where I would reconsider that decision. I have now concluded that there is no fucking way I will ever use echo, no matter how much they improve it.

    obxkcd

  12. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Why would anyone buy this junk?

    I just don't get why this device has sold at all, let alone why it's proving a 'success' (I know, citation needed). Everything about it sounds creepy, the voice, the constantly on microphone, the fact that its sole reason for being is to make the owner (or, knowing Amazon, the licensee) consume more and more and more tat... I feel like we're all in an episode of Black Mirror.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why would anyone buy this junk?

      Jones's and keeping up with them?

      Gotta have the latest bit of kit to brag about down the Pub

      Too lazy to shop anywhere else

      etc

      etc

      etc

      There is no way that ANYTHING like this especially from Amazon or Google will ever get into my home.

      All they want is to get more information on you so that they can target Ads at you better.

      Like Facebook which apparently in the time it takes to blink an eye after you have logged on, has loaded up all your history, browsing history, CC purchases and a whole load more data on you, into its 'A.I.' system so that it can better target Adverts at you.

      Jut say no to all this crap or give them the finger whichever gives you the most pleasure.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Why would anyone buy this junk?

        'All they want is to get more information on you so that they can target Ads at you better.'

        Well they couldn't be any worse, currently their targeted ads to me consist of:

        Things I've already bought that I'm unlikely to need another of, seriously how many headlamp bulbs am I likely to need in a two month period?

        Things I can get free from work. I mean legally they're issued as PPE why would I buy the exact same product with my own money?

        YouTube are no better, as a man hiding male pattern baldness with a razor blade I'm not sure why they think shampoo adverts are something I'm likely to appreciate...

    2. Donn Bly

      Re: Why would anyone buy this junk?

      Everything about it sounds creepy

      Perhaps the reason that eveything sounds creepy is because most of what you read is from people who have never used the device, don't really know how it works, and whose knowlege is limited to the mostly inaccurate information that they have read on the Internet.

      I have several Echo devices, at both home and office. They are limited in what they can do, but even in their limited form they provide sufficient value for me to keep them around.

      When the last software update asked if it could have access to my contacts, I declined. I didn't intend to use the calling features so I didn't see the need - but the point is that it ASKED me, it didn't just go out and grab them. As the user I had the choice.

      1. LionelHutz

        Re: Why would anyone buy this junk?

        This had nothing to do with Amazon. iOS and Android (recent versions) require permission to access contacts. I'll bet you anything you like that if this wasn't enforced at the system level they would have just taken them and turned the feature on at first run, like it or not. They deliberately launched this without call blocking and with automatic contact slurping, you can thank your OS vendor for giving you any semblance of control at all.

  13. G R Goslin

    For the UK?

    Is this US only? My Alexa App hasn't been updated, and one thread I read said that it was coming on Wednesday. But neglected to say what Wednesday.

  14. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Oras said she tried to find a way to remove or delete contacts from the app, only to realize there was no such option."

    Time for a classic standby - "the re-program with a very large axe" move. It's super effective!

  15. 404 Silver badge

    Hell of a thing, a 'customer/client/datacow' pays for the monitoring system - be it Alexa, Google, etc - pays for the power/bandwidth the system uses, all for a perceived 'convenience' - to be milked dry of any/all information, folded, stapled, mutilated into a product for a business profit.

    I'm just marveling at it. Update that old saw, 'Take my wife, please!' to 'Take all my data, please! I'll pay!'.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      I'm sure you can have your Alexa customized with a tasteful "KAR120C" lettering.

  16. Tim Brown 1
    Mushroom

    Alexa, why have you locked the front door?

    I've checked the weather, Tim. There's a risk of thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are dangerous. It's not safe for you to go out.

  17. Chunes

    Tell Me Again

    why I need an Alexa to make phone calls for me?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tell Me Again

      I'm glad you have the use of your hands, some people are not so lucky.

      And granting use of contacts is not the issue, it's expecting a proper connected service between contacts and phone that any smartphone is capable of. That's where people are let down.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hey, Alexa!

    Initiate self-destruct sequence.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So much FUD

    Time for some facts:

    Run wireshark on your network, fire up Alexa, and look at any outgoing connections from your network. Until you say the trigger phrase, she is dormant. Always listening is a myth.

    Really not sure what value the questions posed to Alexa hold either if i'm honest - Amazon aren't going to get much out of things like 'Alexa, turn on the light', 'Alexa, play spotify', 'Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes', and 'Alexa, what's the weather like today?' which is what she gets asked 95% of the time.

    Alexa isn't true AI. She has a bunch of scripted answers to a whole bunch of commonly asked questions, with some smart home API's. She's actually pretty dumb. Reading some of the comments here, you'd think she was Skynet incarnate...

  20. adam payne Silver badge

    "Amazon told El Reg a solution is in the works. "The call block feature will be available in the coming weeks," a spokesperson said. "We know this is important to customers, and we're working on it."

    So important you left a basic feature such as call blocking out?!? What were they thinking?

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