back to article You know that silly fear about Alexa recording everything and leaking it online? It just happened

It's time to break out your "Alexa, I Told You So" banners – because a Portland, Oregon, couple received a phone call from one of the husband's employees earlier this month, telling them she had just received a recording of them talking privately in their home. "Unplug your Alexa devices right now," the staffer told the couple …

  1. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge

    Unplugged most of the time.

    I have one but it's plugged in only when we want to use it. My wife, who I called paranoid, insists we keep it unplugged when not in use. Maybe she was on to something.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
      Thumb Up

      Re: Unplugged most of the time.

      My wife bought a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/aux jack micro-USB-rechargeable speaker. It's not Amazon-brand, but it claims to be Alexa-compatible. We ONLY use Bluetooth mode and keep it completely off otherwise -- NOT enabling Wi-Fi on it, ever! (Not inviting Alexa in by any means.)

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Unplugged most of the time.

        @My other car

        Your Alexa-compatible speaker is most likely just using it as a marketing ploy.

        It's a bluetooth speaker and the echo devices can connect to bluetooth speakers as an output. Doesn't mean it has any smarts of its own. It fact, it probably doesn't even have a microphone.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Unplugged most of the time.

          Speakers can be used as a microphone, it's the same principle less sensitive maybe.

          1. katgod

            Re: Unplugged most of the time.

            Speakers can be used as microphones but the speaker driver now has to be a input instead of an output, not likely that this is possible. Having said that I don't trust Alexa either, there are to many ways this system can go wrong.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Holmes

      Maybe she was on to something.

      You think?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unplugged most of the time.

      I'm sorry, but why would you buy something that you have to keep OFF most of the time, because you can't trust it??? For fcuk sake: People with too much money or what! - #Death2IoT!

      1. ps2os2

        Re: Unplugged most of the time.

        I bought an Alexa as I have a disability and need it to remind of things I had to do and remembering medical items.

        It has totally failed me I just use it to get the temperature outside and the weather. Otherwise, it is a rock on a table because It can't do things I need it to do, despite asking many times at Amazon and was assured it could. Do not believe anything you hear about it on Amazon. After my many complaints, they updated the descriptions, but I am stuck with it.

        1. nagyeger

          Re: Unplugged most of the time.

          If you're in the UK, and they don't take it back, then talk to your local trading standards people.

          "not fit for purpose" sounds like a good description.

    4. Blank Reg

      Re: Unplugged most of the time.

      I keep mine unplugged, in the original box and still on the warehouse shelf as I've never seen the point to using any such device.

    5. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: Unplugged most of the time.

      This is why I fell out with Sonos over their new privacy policy and adding microphones to everything. El Reg helped give them a public spanking too. Sonos did offer full refunds for all devices though, so not totally evil.

    6. R 11

      Re: Unplugged most of the time.

      This will be that bit in the comments section where a bunch of folk who carry a mobile/cell phone next to them all day proceed to proclaim loudly that they'd never allow a listening device in their home.

      1. Blank Reg

        Re: Unplugged most of the time.

        I don't think my Blackberry Z30 is spying on me. I have many other newer and more powerful phones, but that's the one I prefer.

      2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: Unplugged most of the time.

        This will be that bit in the comments section where a bunch of folk who carry a mobile/cell phone next to them all day proceed to proclaim loudly that they'd never allow a listening device in their home.

        Well, considering when at home I keep my cellphone on the charger in the kitched, while I work in my office on the opposite end of the house, it's not going to do much. I don't have the voice-command function enabled for Google (don't even have one for Amazon or MS), and on top of that there's pretty much no cell signal at my house anyway. Might have a "listening device" in my home, but with all it's gonna do fuck-all here.

        Oh, and the microphone ports on my laptop? Covered by the same tape that covers the webcam. THAT'S going to have a crap signal too.

        If I can't order something, or send a message, by TYPING it, it's not happening at all.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: carry a mobile/cell phone next to them all day

        "a bunch of folk who carry a mobile/cell phone next to them all day "

        Mine's a Nokia.

        Maybe a Nolia 6310, from the time when men were men and cellphones weren't smart.

        Or maybe a Nokia E71. From the time when phones and their users hadn't dumbed down as far as they appear to have now.

        But definitely not a modern Nokia 3310 thank you.

        The S in IoT, like the S in Android, is for security.

        Anyone seen Peter Thiel recently?

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Maybe she was on to something."

      If a wife says something,

      and no man is listening,

      does Alexa still hear "right"?

      (Happy Parsing)

  2. Roger Ramjet

    And that....

    Ladies and Genlemen, is why I prefer a dumb home.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And that....

      Your home doesn't look so dumb all of a sudden, does it?

    2. oiseau Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: And that....

      Hello:

      Ladies and Genlemen, is why I prefer a dumb home.

      Words (in a much more polite and civil manner) right out of my mouth.

      Because I cannot upvote you more than once. =-)

    3. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: And that....

      And that....Ladies and Genlemen, is why I prefer a dumb home.

      Indeed. Smart-home tech is the solution for the ultimate First World Problem.

      And really...have we become so dissolute that flipping a light switch is an intolerable burden?

      1. katgod

        Re: And that....

        fido,

        I suspect this is the same as climbing Everest, because it is there. In this case buying this stuff is much easier then climbing Everest so you can be the first on your block to tell your lights to turn off. There are some people who also do need the technology but they are probably not the ones who will typically buy it.

    4. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: And that....

      I'm not against a 'smart' home, I'm against these damn devices that permanently connected to the Internet and which work primarily for their manufacturers rather than for the consumer who bought them.

      I wouldn't mind being able to issue commands to a *local* computer in the manner of 1970s sci-fi dramas and have it carry them out.

      It's the same with self-driving cars. I'm looking forward to the day when I call up a car, it'll arrive and take me to where I want to go *but without the slurp*. I know we have taxis now. I'm hoping that the self-driving cars will be cross between (and priced between) taxis and efficient public transport.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: And that....

        @deadlockvictim You have put your finger on it. When I was a child I dreamed of owning a computer - the whole thing - and doing whatever I pleased with it. I would have been horrified at the prospect of that being beholden to giant corporations that could invade my privacy, because I had lots of other dreams, not all of them I was yet brave enough to describe to others.

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: And that....

        I'm not against a 'smart' home, I'm against these damn devices that permanently connected to the Internet and which work primarily for their manufacturers rather than for the consumer who bought them.

        Quite. There's a few things to be said for having heating, cooling, lighting and presence controllers communicate with each other so that for instance heating is not going full blast because there's a window open and cool air is wafting in. But there's no need to involve external systems for that, and so there is no such connection.

        And if I need to order something I'll do so by visiting the appropriate website (which rarely has the A-word in its URL), not by yelling at a stupid box.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: And that....

          I thought I was in a minority. I cannot see any benefit for "smart" devices in your home. I see washing machines that have apps on your phone (why would I care?). Self ordering fridges (I like to buy stuff when it is on offer, not blindly re-order the same thing each week). Home heating that can be changed over the internet (I get in the house, switch heating on and it is warm 5 minutes later at the most. If I put the fire on the room is warm in under a minute). Dont get me started on Alexa devices, sure a box that continually listens to you isnt going to barf, even more hilarious if you have friends name Alexa.

          I do admit that I have a bluetooth speaker in the bathroom and I bluetooth sync my phone to the car. However, the car is really promiscuous and it is even more hilarious when the car bleeps that it has bonded to a random phone; the car used to pick up a phone at a particular junction, process of elimination would guess it was for the garage on the corner. It always needed a pin number ("please input the pin code on your device shown ont he display") however one day it did not and simply bonded. I didnt phone for pizza for them (who doesnt love pizza?) although very funny I imagine just about any other car would be doing the same....

          bad bad idea.

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: And that....

            You don't need to have friends called Alexa. You might just like the Billy Joel song "The Downeaster Alexa" (one of hist best, in my personal opinion). I don't have any such device, but I am very curious to see what would happen if you repeatedly played that song to 'Alexa'. They should have chosen a rarer name, like Hig Hurtenflurst, or a nice word like "ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-ptang-zoom-boing-mrow"

            Sorry, I'll get me coat

            1. Akko

              Re: And that....

              While I've never seen a reason to own an Alexa (or any Google or Apple alternative), I might be tempted to buy an Amazon Hig Hurtenflurst. Just for the heck of it. It only *happens* to be the best home assistant on the market.

            2. onefang Silver badge
              Paris Hilton

              Re: And that....

              'or a nice word like "ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-ptang-zoom-boing-mrow"'

              Dammit, that's my girlfriends name, wouldn't want a machine to respond to that.

              Paris Hilton, coz I wish my girlfriend looked like that. Sorry Ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-ptang-zoom-boing-mrow.

              1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

                Re: And that....

                ISTM that the words, "I'll ask her" (e.g. as in "I'll ask her what she wants for dinner") could easily be mistaken for "Alexa" if said with certain accents.

                1. Colabroad

                  Re: And that....

                  Even worse, some dialects will sound like "I'll axe her..." and end up with the nosy spy-device reporting you to the plod!

                2. ps2os2

                  Re: And that....

                  Exactly, I asked Alexa one time to play music by Bread. Alexa came up with nothing close to "Bread". last night I asked her to play music from 2001 a Space Odyssey and nothing close to it came out. Do not believe it will understand 50 percent of what you ask. I have a nothing accent, I am from the Midwest so nothing unusual. I pity anyone that has an accent.

                  1. onefang Silver badge

                    Re: And that....

                    "I pity anyone that has an accent."

                    Apparently my aussie accent is so thick, other aussies can't understand it.

                  2. rskurat

                    Re: And that....

                    My "favorite" Alexa gaffe was when asking about some relatively unusual jewelry, I think it was some amber or turquoise. You would think it's optimized to sell you things, but the first half-dozen replies all had to do with "Jewry." This was shortly after it was first released so I hope they've tweaked the voice recog.

                3. TomPhan
                  Thumb Down

                  "ISTM that the words, "I'll ask her" (e.g. as in "I'll ask her what she wants for dinner") could easily be mistaken for "Alexa" if said with certain accents."

                  Tried five minutes of increasingly bizarre accents and couldn't get it to respond.

                4. rskurat

                  Re: And that....

                  Hadn't occurred to me, being more stoic than cynic - but perhaps the name Alexa was chosen for precisely that reason?

            3. JcRabbit

              Re: And that....

              @ Michael H.F. Wilkinson "I am very curious to see what would happen if you repeatedly played that song to Alexa"

              Well, listening to the song, it would chart you a flight to the Vineyard, then another to Nantucket for that same night, would place an ad on the local newspaper to sell your home, and would then order some delicious bones from the local butcher for you to chew on. Bon apetit! :)

              I don't get it. Even George Orwell, when he wrote 1984, would never have guessed that people would VOLUNTARILY put those spying cameras into their own homes. Oh what a world we live on! lol

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: And that....

              "They should have chosen a rarer name, like Hig Hurtenflurst, or a nice word like "ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-ptang-zoom-boing-mrow""

              Gyro Gearloose DID try that approach for his new Gizmoduck suit in picking an obscure word like "blatherskyte". But as it turned out, Scrooge McDuck's new accountant, Fenton Crackshell, actually used that very word as part of his clean curse "blabberin' blatherskytes". The rest...was history.

              IOW, Murphy's Law can well be in effect. Pick something rare and it turns out someone close to you routinely uses it.

          2. chrisf1

            Re: And that....

            'I cannot see any benefit for "smart" devices in your home'

            Personally I'm only temporarily abled and practicing now for when I can't reach the radio to turn over from BBC Radio 2. I'm not lazy I'm thinking ahead.

            More seriously bringing down the cost by commoditizing this technology for assisted living is fantastic. As soon as my Mum could remember it was called Alexa she wanted one for the radio/music options alone. Try handling discs and buttons and screens with hand morphology issues.

            1. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: And that....

              "More seriously bringing down the cost by commoditizing this technology for assisted living is fantastic."

              Yep, a lot of people say "I can't see any point to this rubbish", but a lot of it is really helpful for people who are disabled or elderly.

              (The constantly-connected-to-the-cloud, uploading-your-conversations bit is bollocks of course).

              For some people, just walking to the other side of the room is difficult. Being able to shout and have a computer turn the heat up, or change radio stations is a life changer.

              1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

                Re: And that....

                ...a lot of it is really helpful for people who are disabled or elderly....

                No! For God's sake DON'T provide such a system to anyone who isn't a capable techie.

                1 - It will work for you, but not work well for the elderly disabled relative, who won't understand how to interact with it and will probably treat it like a person.

                2 - After a week, it will stop working with a bug, or exhibit some other problem. We know what we would do, but what will the elderly disabled relative do? The sensible thing for us to do would be reboot it - the sensible thing for someone born in the 1920s to do with a strange machine is to put it in a bucket of water....

                1. PPK
                  Happy

                  Re: And that....

                  Relevant:

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xvOk7fo-K8

                  Oh, and:

                  https://xkcd.com/1807/

              2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

                Re: And that....

                Yep, a lot of people say "I can't see any point to this rubbish", but a lot of it is really helpful for people who are disabled or elderly.

                I would hope such a device would be more configurable/customizable, in order to meet the particular needs of the person it's being set up for. I don't expect your bog-standard Alexia/Siri/Cortana/Orac (well, maybe Orac) would be properly helpful in it's standard configuration. And you'd probably want a local management host, not something subject to internet lag and connectivity issues. Again, I doubt the commercial snoopmeisters want the lowly consumer to have that level of freedom.

          3. Selden

            Re: And that....

            I'm not sure that you are in a minority; these gadgets appeal to techies, whose numbers may be over-estimated. I know many people who can't even figure out how to pair a Bluetooth speaker (and still more who have no idea what Bluetooth is).

            For me, they are solutions in search of problems. So far, I have not found any problems for which they are more effective than older tech.

            Your car may indeed be promiscuous, as I have never experienced what you report. BT pairing with a phone is genuinely useful technology in an automobile, as I can take calls while driving with no more distraction than listening to the radio (which shuts off during a phone call). If a technology improves my life I will use it; if it doesn't, I won't.

          4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: And that....

            ...Home heating that can be changed over the internet (I get in the house, switch heating on and it is warm 5 minutes later at the most. If I put the fire on the room is warm in under a minute).

            We have that in one house, but that's because it's only occupied on weekends, and the heating system is ancient. It's not so much for the convenience of turning the heat up, as much as for making sure the furnace doesn't die in the middle of a cold snap.

            And I had thought of getting something similar for my own house when I wasn't working from home, to keep other family members from cranking up the heat during the day (I would have run a cron job on my jumpbox to check the heat every 10-15 min, and push it back down to the default). Of course, that latter function would have required a locally controllable API, and I doubt the manufacturers want to allow mere CUSTOMERS that level of control over devices the CUSTOMER bought and paid for.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: heating vs open windows - off topic ? Lot 20?

          "for instance heating is not going full blast because there's a window open and cool air is wafting in."

          A change is gonna come.

          I seem to recall that the latest round of EU room heating efficiency standards will have that as part of the spec. Clarification welcome.

          It's something to do with EU EcoDesign regulations and in particular with Lot 20.

          First search engine hit leads to an outfit whose prime purpose is sales of electric radiators. I have a quick glance, and move on.

          Skip a few equally blatant commercial sites and spot something on the IET website, maybe they'll have something more informative and relevant.

          And yet, the wording sounds remarkably familiar, and for good reason: in the small print at the bottom of the page, "This article was provided by xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx, the UK’s leading retailer electric heating solutions." (the same shop whose blurb I'd just been reading).

          Wtf, IET? Come the end of this year, I will be an ex-member. It's been on the cards for a while, but...

          http://www.lot20.co.uk/ might be more helpful.

          In my road warror days I actually used to have a remote-controlled mains plug (a WeMo switch) so I could start warming up the flat before I arrived home (electric heating, no gas). And then the WeMo stopped responding and wasn't diagnosable let alone fixable (as with a lot of modern tech stuff). Fortunately I'm spending a lot more time at home these days.

      3. gbru2606

        Re: And that....

        "I'm hoping that the self-driving cars will be cross between (and priced between) taxis and efficient public transport."

        ...and not prone to racist rants.

        1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
          Terminator

          Re: And that....

          @ gbru26060

          ""I'm hoping that the self-driving cars will be cross between (and priced between) taxis and efficient public transport."

          ...and not prone to racist rants.

          "

          Hey! That's Organism talk! Machines aren't racist (although some may be Species-ist, and I certainly have my suspicions as to why my toast keeps coming out burnt...)[*]

          [*] actually, it's nothing to do with dodgy hardware at all - it only seems to happen after my Better Half cremates her toast before I get to the toaster

        2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

          Re: And that....

          ......and not prone to racist rants....

          Do you have problems with Muslim drivers who hate Hindus in your neck of the woods as well?

      4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: And that....

        I'm not against a 'smart' home, I'm against these damn devices that permanently connected to the Internet and which work primarily for their manufacturers rather than for the consumer who bought them.

        Not just devices, but applications/apps as well. REALLY despise those programs that just want to sit in the background and want to check if there's an update available every five minutes like some digital version of an OCD child. No, stupid software, I will *TELL* you when you can go check for updates, and not a moment before, so shut down and shut up.

      5. Allaun

        Re: And that....

        If you are truely interested in a local home computer for automation, this might be a start.

        (Raspberry Pi based)

        http://www.instructables.com/id/Cheapest-Smart-Home-for-38/

    5. Stu Mac

      Re: And that....

      I just cannot imagine WHY anyone wants this guff. Worthless self serving flash in the pan.

      1. pakman
        Devil

        Re: And that....

        Remember this gadget? https://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/01/10/android_rice_cooker/

        Where will it end? "Alexa, please burn my ex's house down...."

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: please turn off your screen-reader's text-to-speech

          "Alexa, please burn Tony Blair's houses down...."

      2. Tikimon Silver badge

        Re: And that....

        "I just cannot imagine WHY anyone wants this guff. Worthless self serving flash in the pan."

        WE don't want it, most of us. The tech companies are frothing over it for the data mining it offers THEM. So they push it and push it with endless hype. Modern home! Future! Convenience! SHINY!! So Yer Average Joe buys it, thinking it's The Future. You can't fault the consumer for being led astray by companies who spend millions to accomplish that.

        Also, not everyone is aware of the surveillance and security flaws like us tech ninjas. The companies do their best to distract us from noticing or give mealy-mouth promises they are planning to break.

        1. ps2os2

          Re: And that....

          As I said earlier I have Alexa. After weeks of yelling at it trying to figure out how to do something I needed to be done, I somehow came up with a 1-800 number for Washinton. I was up at 4 AM so I called it and I was surprised to actually talk with a technician. I started to ask questions and questions that lead to other questions. He was taking copious notes. He verified my configuration (he didn't say so but he implied he was looking at my set up in real time). Every time I asked him a question how do you do this? I would not get back a direct answer. After an hour and a half, I essentially got nothing back in terms of solutions. A month later I noticed that the changed on Amazon the wording on a lot of Alexa descriptions. They basically took every question I asked into a bullet saying Alexa can't do this! (with some extra verbiage to CYA). Was I mad. Everything I need Alexa to do was negated. One thing to warn everyone is that they don't give instruction manuals. The 4.95 book is considered an add-on and even that doesn't give you a hint on a lot of items. Apparently, you have to be an expert to hook two of them up together. I gave up as I am technically savvy but not Alexa savvy.

    6. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: And that....

      ...And that....Ladies and Genlemen, is why I prefer a dumb home....

      And your wife?

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    But the truth is that if Alexa devices can easily be turned into bugs

    They are bugs. So are our phones, Smart TVs, etc.

    We have voluntarily walked into a scenario which would give Comrade Erich Honeker a priapic fit. The scariest part is that a lot of us are enjoying it too and not having any second thoughts about the specific possibilities which are disturbing the marble plate in the graveyard near Berlin.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Smart TVs?

      Not mine. No WiFi code entered and no ethernet cable.

      Apart from privacy, Sony's own GUI is better than the Android TV garbage.

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Smart TVs?

        I wouldn't be too sure we won't end up with devices with WhisperSync like technology or mesh networking that doesn't rely on your own network.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Smart TVs?

          I wouldn't be too sure we won't end up with devices with WhisperSync like technology or mesh networking that doesn't rely on your own network.

          I use a no root firewall to prevent the tablet/phone from connecting to certain sites/addresses. Hopefully that should help with the issue if it becomes a problem.

          1. Miss_X2m1

            Re: Smart TVs?

            Which no root firewall do you recommend? Thank you.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Smart TVs?

              Which no root firewall do you recommend? Thank you.

              I'm not the op, but If you want just any one of them, then here's a list you could choose from.

              - Greyshirt No root Firewall

              - Faircode NetGuard - no-root firewall

              - NetPatch Firewall

              Search for the apks and download the apks themselves if you do not want to get it from the play store. There are probably more that can be added to the list, but I'll let op or other users post their recommendation.

              If you wanted to explore for other firewall apps, my general advice for picking firewall app is

              1) If it is no root, it should be using vpn to reroute traffic as all no-root firewall.

              2) It should not be asking for unnecessary permissions.

              3) It should not be adding extra connection unrelated to your activity.

              1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

                Re: Smart TVs?

                Search for the apks and download the apks themselves if you do not want to get it from the play store

                Why would you *not* want to get it from the Play Store? Surely, there's less chance of it having been exploited by someone if you get it from the Play store?

                1. onefang Silver badge

                  Re: Smart TVs?

                  "Surely, there's less chance of it having been exploited by someone if you get it from the Play store?"

                  Less chance of downloading a similarly named bit of malware from Play, by getting it direct from the authors.

                  1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                    Re: Smart TVs?

                    "Less chance of downloading a similarly named bit of malware from Play, by getting it direct from the authors."

                    Unless the author is a malware author playing on paranoia. I personally use DNS66, which I get from F-Droid (and F-Droid compiles most of the apps it posts on its repo from source).

                    1. onefang Silver badge

                      Re: Smart TVs?

                      "I personally use DNS66, which I get from F-Droid (and F-Droid compiles most of the apps it posts on its repo from source)."

                      I do that to, and I'm gradually switching away from Play store apps to F-Droid apps.

            2. JimboSmith Silver badge

              Re: Smart TVs?

              Personally I use one called "NoRoot Firewall" available via the play store. I got a recommendation for that from an ex-colleague but as someone else said there are plenty available. As ever do read the reviews before installing etc.

          2. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Smart TVs?

            "I use a no root firewall to prevent the tablet/phone from connecting to certain sites/addresses."

            System apps can work below such firewalls (much as Windows 10 does by an internal lookup), and the only way to add a system-level firewall that can actually deal with them is to root your phone, which has its own strings attached (such as disabling root- and custom-aware apps, and Android has gotten stricter and stricter with enforcing this).

            And the thing with Whispernets is that they don't touch any network you own; they're their own networks outside your control.

        2. Scorchio!!

          Re: Smart TVs?

          "I wouldn't be too sure we won't end up with devices with WhisperSync like technology or mesh networking that doesn't rely on your own network."

          Best not to have one. Eventually I'll be living in the middle of nowhere and as each day passes I more and more consider being completely disconnected. Don't be evil my foot. (Yes, I know, that one's been erased from their charter thingy.)

          1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: Smart TVs?

            "I wouldn't be too sure we won't end up with devices with WhisperSync like technology or mesh networking that doesn't rely on your own network."

            But unless they manage to conceal the mic so thoroughly yet still keep it functional, a bit of foam tape should dort that out (foam because by then the mics will still be able to hear through masking tape, and thicker tape will be in order).

            1. JimboSmith Silver badge

              Re: Smart TVs?

              But unless they manage to conceal the mic so thoroughly yet still keep it functional, a bit of foam tape should dort that out (foam because by then the mics will still be able to hear through masking tape, and thicker tape will be in order).

              I find that if you have a hard to reach microphone then a good squirt from a hot glue gun down the hole works quite well.

            2. onefang Silver badge

              Re: Smart TVs?

              "a bit of foam tape should dort that out"

              I dunno if you have noticed, but a lot of microphones used on stage have the business end wrapped in foam. You might want something with a bit more ability to block voice.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Smart TVs?

                "I dunno if you have noticed, but a lot of microphones used on stage have the business end wrapped in foam. You might want something with a bit more ability to block voice."

                There foam and then there's foam. The foam on stage mics is breathable and is mostly meant as a windscreen so the sounds of people's breathing don't get picked up. I think you'll find the kind of foam used to seal cracks (closed rather than open cells) will act quite different acoustically.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: WhisperSync

          Almost. Even if you do not have Wifi on the TV, your mobile phone probably already notes the TV you watch via ultrasonic identifiers and an advertising app (facebook?) or two that are set to pick them up, but probably don't notify you specifically.

          Anon, but we all know timestamps and linguistics is all that is needed.

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      If you've got a Fire tablet then watch out because Alexa got a recent update and seems to be enabled by default. It is possible to turn it on to hands free enabled very easily and not easy to disable it altogether I only discovered this week that my Fire HD8 now had Alexa switched on.

      The way I found out was when I held down the home for too long when distracted by something else. As it was in a dark room, quite late at night and on my own I almost leapt out of my skin. However I was reassured by the voice message that the bloody thing couldn't connect to amazon (I have a no root firewall taking care of that). Even if it could connect I physically disabled the built in microphone when I got the tablet, so good luck understanding what I'm saying. There is a way to turn the bloody thing off if you don't want to muck about with the hardware. All you need to do is turn on parental controls to disable Alexa from coming back. Well for the moment anyway..............

      1. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

        'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

        I could see your lips move, Dave.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: 'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

          Not on my tablets you can't cos there's black electrical tape over the cameras. Paranoid......Moi.......Never......

          Have an upvote for the Kubrick reference though.

        2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

          Re: 'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

          ...I could see your lips move, Dave....

          The full quote is:

          HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

          Dave Bowman: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?

          HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.

          Dave Bowman: Alright, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock.

          HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.

          Dave Bowman: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!

          HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

          1. OFSO
            Black Helicopters

            Re: 'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

            I never do searches on any device using google, but use an alternative which protects my identity.

            However I'd suggest to anyone here owning a smartphone a simple test you might do. With voice recognition turned off, try having a conversation about some product within hearing distance of your phone. Then see if one or more adverts turns up on your phone, etc, which relates to your previous conversation. Well ?

            1. onefang Silver badge

              Re: 'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

              "Then see if one or more adverts turns up on your phone, etc, which relates to your previous conversation. Well ?"

              Well, I have ads blocked on my phone, so none turned up.

            2. Clarecats

              Re: 'I physically disabled the built in microphone'

              A friend or two have had just this occur, for some particularly specific item. In one case the lady did not even know such a gadget existed but had been saying how she would like someone to invent it.

              I also run ad blockers but this doesn't work so well on my phone as on my PC.

      2. greenwood-IT

        Registered Business Address is now private?

        Haha,

        Love it, you have to turn on "Parental Control" to get privacy! How the world changes, I used to lie about being over 18 to see nude pictures, now I have to lie about being under 13 to get some privacy! :-)

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Registered Business Address is now private?

          Love it, you have to turn on "Parental Control" to get privacy!

          That thought had crossed my mind too. It did feel odd turning on the parental controls when I don't have kids.

          1. Clarecats
            Childcatcher

            Re: Registered Business Address is now private?

            Alexa will shortly report you for leaving your children at home / in a hotel room unaccompanied for a long period.

  4. DNTP
    Black Helicopters

    You install a device that records everything it hears

    And then it records everything it hears.

    Black helicopters because obviously there is a great mystery going on here.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone dumb enough

    ...to use so-called "smart" devices in their homes deserves what they get.

    1. Myro117

      Re: Anyone dumb enough

      You write that from your smart phone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Anyone dumb enough

        How many of you smart-asses* have Siri or "Ok Google" enabled on your phones?

        *Translation: "dumb-asses"

        1. Raphael

          Re: Anyone dumb enough

          Never had Siri (don't like iPhones) and prior to my S9 Google was set to only listen when I pushed a button telling it that it was allowed to listen.

          On my S9 Bixby is also set to only listen when I push the Bixby button, but it's so freaking useless I never do.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Anyone dumb enough

            prior to my S9 Google was set to only listen when I pushed a button telling it that it was allowed to listen.

            Nothing can go wrong there.

            Uninstall or disable all Google apps except Play and Services, remove microphone, location, and camera permission from those and pray they don't alter the deal further.

            1. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

              Re: Anyone dumb enough

              Lol. You delicate summer flower.

              1. Dan 55 Silver badge
                Meh

                Re: Anyone dumb enough

                Lol.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ive got a cup of tea

    Fun in the comments section

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Ive got a cup of tea

      Yes.. I'm waiting to hear from someone who's partner is named Alexa and a late night tryst gets broadcast...

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Ive got a cup of tea

        Good skit on Alexa by Tudur Owen on The Now Show last year. Here's a YouTube clip (starts at 21 minutes)

        M.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          @ Martin an gof

          Thanks for that. It made my day :)

  7. RareToy

    There is also a trigger frequency. I have had some EDM/Techno music playing on my Echo and it will trigger from time to time. I have also had a TV commercial say "Mark this on your calendar" and my Echo lit up and said "You don't have your calendar linked to the system". I am not home most of the time, so it's just recording silence for me. One day I'll get a frequency generator and go up the tones until I find it. It has to be a really high frequency as I'm good at picking up on low frequencies.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      "One day I'll get a frequency generator and go up the tones until I find it."

      There are frequency generator apps, and computer programs you could use.

      1. 404 Silver badge

        'There are frequency generator apps, and computer programs you could use.'

        Those require 'smart' devices to use - they are not going to hurt their own people, thus the dumb generator...

        I hate a lyin' computer.. don't tell me they don't know...

        0_o

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        All are available on Amazon too.

  8. steviebuk Silver badge

    It will all kick off...

    ....when one day while talking to your wife/partner etc. who happens to be called Alexa you say "Alexa. I had a call. John from work. The new boss, he's an arsehole. Told me to send a message. But I'm busy so he can wait"

    At which point you find your Amazon Alexa has just sent a message to your boss saying he's an arsehole.

  9. revenant

    How naughty have Amazon been?

    It goes without saying that the mere fact that this occurred is a very bad failure on Amazon's part, but the absence of essential detail in the original reports doesn't help us put any flesh on Amazon's less then helpful explanations, which leaves open the possible argument that they had somehow triggered it themselves

    What I'd like to know is:

    - How did the employee receive the recording? Voice mail? Direct call? E-mail attachment?

    - Why did the employee think they had been hacked, as opposed to assuming they had butt-dialed?

    - Is it normally possible for a user to command Alexa to send a recording to one of their contacts? If not, then it implies the presence of an undocumented (and therefore disturbing) feature.

    In the absence of information like this it is hard to know whether to sharpen my pitchfork or not.

    1. Donn Bly

      Re: How naughty have Amazon been?

      Is it normally possible for a user to command Alexa to send a recording to one of their contacts?

      Yes, It is normally possible for a user to CALL one of their contacts, provided that they have the free feature enabled. It is also a normal feature for a receiving party to have voicemail delivered as an attachment.

      1. revenant

        Re: How naughty have Amazon been?

        Thanks for the info. So no hidden mechanisms, then. But certainly a misdirection of a recording.

        It still begs the question - What was the 'rare occurrence' that Amazon referred to? The absence of any explanation doesn't instill confidence that it can't happen again.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: How naughty have Amazon been?

          To further elaborate:

          What I'd like to know is:

          - How did the employee receive the recording? Voice mail? Direct call? E-mail attachment?

          Apparently there is a feature to record and send a message as audio

          - Why did the employee think they had been hacked, as opposed to assuming they had butt-dialed?

          cos when the boss sends you a recording he clearly doisent know he's doing it - someone else dit it . possibly.

          - Is it normally possible for a user to command Alexa to send a recording to one of their contacts? If not, then it implies the presence of an undocumented (and therefore disturbing) feature.

          Apparently It is , and although documented , Its still alarming to me and should be removed , or at least diabled by default.

          In the absence of information like this it is hard to know whether to sharpen my pitchfork or not.

          RTFA! lol

          Contrary to what you read in the el Reg comments section this gizmo isnt Always recording everything you do and storing it on Jeff Bezos DVR.

          It operates a 1second audio constant audio buffer ( according to the article) which if hears its name it will increase to record the command - send that to "ze cloud" to be understood.

          Hence in theory , when not going off the rails , alexa only listens when u talking at it .

          We know this not always case due to tv triggers etc ,

          BUT if they refrained from apps that record you and transmit that - i guess it would go a lot smoother.

          stick to: "Switch light on" , "play music" , "put beer on shopping list"

          AVOID: "take this down and email it to {random person badly voice interpreted}"

  10. Mage Silver badge

    Changing my name to Cassandra

    I told everyone it was a bad idea.

    So is Nest, Cortana, connecting TV to Internet, Siri.

    car or home locks that can work by an app.

    Anything that's a gadget connecting to Internet (sound bars, remotes, tooth brushes), even if it allegedly only uses bluetooth or a home hub.

    1. DNTP

      Re: Changing my name to Cassandra

      I had a moment of confusion here: Alexa, Cortana, Siri, wtf is a Cassandra and what device activates by accident when you say that name?

      And then I was like, "oh wait."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Changing my name to Cassandra

      Changing my name to Cassandra

      Bugger! How did you know about my concept for a digital assistant called Mage?

    3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Changing my name to Cassandra

      Arma(zon) virumque cano...

      Is this the face "digital assistant" that launched a thousand ships lawsuits and burned the topless towers badly hit the share price of Ilion Amazon?

      1. ardj

        Re: Changing my name to Cassandra

        And new technology calls all in doubt

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Changing my name to Cassandra - And new technology calls all in doubt

          I see what you Donne there.

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Changing my name to Cassandra

      Careful.. don't go near a temple of Athena after changing your name!

  11. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Most of us knew that this was going on

    But couldn't prove it. Now we can.

    All we need is for all those Echo's to get caught with their pants down as well.

    Time to get rid of those spy's in your homes people.

    Don't forget to recycle properly.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

      Sadly, it's only us IT types who will dump this stuff. Much like from comments that not many of us use Facebook, etc. We're a paranoid group and rightly so. The masses... not so much as "It's new! It's shiny! We want it!!!!"

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

        "We're a paranoid group"

        No, we're not. Paranoia is an unjustified fear. Our fears are entirely justified.

        1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

          Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

          Maybe not completely justified; sometimes the fears are a bit exaggerated.

          But then something like this happens.

          1. vir

            Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

            It's the very recent concept of needing to have security implemented into consumer products. Most people's idea of security is the $30 deadbolt on their front door, their home security system, or shredding credit card statements before putting them in the trash. All of those are well and good, but they're defenses against an adversary who has physical access and who has specifically targeted you for the purposes of stealing tangible items or discrete pieces of high-value information (e.g. SSN, credit card info, etc). There's just no concept of defense against an adversary who can take what they want from half a world away and wants to know the intimate details of your life to sell over and over again.

            The consumerate (new word) needs to adjust to the paradigm of approaching the selection of consumer products as doing business with an active adversary who is giving you functionality or a price break or both in exchange for insight into your personal life with the intent of monetizing it. That the information you give up somehow enhances the functionality of the product or makes your life better in some way is merely sugar on the pill. Everyone who gives up a little bit of their privacy whenever they purchase something will soon learn that they no longer have any secrets. And those who claim that they "have nothing to hide" will come to find that the most innocuous-seeming information can come back to haunt you in ways you didn't think possible.

            Even a glass house is better than one filled with monitoring devices; at least you can see who is watching you.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

              giving you functionality or a price break or both in exchange for insight into your personal life

              Hey , if personnel data is the new currency then fucking great - I havent got much actual currency so if retailers and manufacturers are going to start taking bits of data instead, then great! Ive got loads of that - i generate it all day long , and even better you can spend it more than once , and even better better you can make up or forge the data and they dont mind!

              1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

                Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

                Ive got loads of that - i generate it all day long , and even better you can spend it more than once , and even better better you can make up or forge the data and they dont mind!

                That's right. Plenty of times some company would *demand* my phone number for some web-form. Just to mess with them I'd look up the corporate HQ's own phone number and put that in the form. Or use an email address like bad.email@<company's domain name here>.

                1. onefang Silver badge

                  Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

                  "That's right. Plenty of times some company would *demand* my phone number for some web-form. Just to mess with them I'd look up the corporate HQ's own phone number and put that in the form. Or use an email address like bad.email@<company's domain name here>."

                  For reasons that I wont go into here, I have a landline that I never wanted, and doesn't have an actual phone connected to it. The only good use I have for it is to hand it to such web forms. Spread it around telemarkerters and such all you want, no ones answering that phone, no one can hear it ring.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

                    Just wait. Someone will probably find a way to hijack the number, use it to commit a serious crime, and then pin the blame onto you (that you claim you never use it just makes you MORE suspicious).

          2. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

            Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

            Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone's not out to get you.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

          Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

          Alexa can be immensely helpful, have friends with a disabled son for whom it is invaluable.

          1. Pseudonymous Howard

            Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

            It's not about if you are paranoid or not, it's about if you are paranoid enough!

            I agree that voice control systems can be very helpful for many people. But why do they need to send everything to somebody else's computers (aka. "ze cloud")? OK, the devices would be more expensive since they need more computing power and the vendor only gets revenue through sales and not through collected data, which will make the price higher. And this is the problem: The data slurpers will always have the cheaper solution, so most of the people will buy those devices.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: Most of us knew that this was going on

              The consumerate (new word) needs to adjust to the paradigm of approaching the selection of consumer products as doing business with an active adversary who is giving you functionality or a price break or both in exchange for insight into your personal life with the intent of monetizing it.

              I find that it helps explain the issues to the consumer if you simplify that sentance to:-

              These devices are cheap because they record your personal information and they can sell this to anybody interested in paying for it. They might not do so at the moment, but if they have that information nothing forces them to ever delete the information that they have on you. Even if the company is trustworthy, that doesn't mean they can't be bought by somebody less trustworthy.

  12. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

    To quote Brasseye:

    This Is The One Thing We Didn't Want To Happen.

  13. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Joke

    I'm surprised...

    No one posted this yet...

    https://xkcd.com/1807/

  14. Donn Bly

    What is the voice recognition version of "butt dialing" called?

    Last year Amazon added hand free calling to Alexa, in preparation for their fall launch of their echo "show" line of video phones. You had to "opt in" to enable it, and again to give it permission to access your contacts, otherwise the feature is disabled. It looks and sounds like they enabled it, and voice recognition misunderstood something that was said and it called their friend leaving a voicemail message.

    In other words, they did the Alexia equivalent of "butt dialing".

    This is a wake-up call (pun intended) that these devices often have features and capabilities that one may forget and they can be accidentally triggered with less than favorable results.

    In The Reg's article today Ubuntu 18 Scott Gilbertson makes some points about "click-baity headlines in this day and age of advertising-driven, small publishers" and how they generate and feed controversy. Though Kieren does a good job in handling the topic, the publicity surrounding this event in most other media sources is a prime example. Nobody would have thought twice about it if he had accidentally made the call using his cell phone instead of using his echo speakerphone.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What is the voice recognition version of "butt dialing" called?

      The voice recognition version: A brain fart or a belch maybe? Or "intentional" if one never attributes to accident that which is malicious.

    2. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: What is the voice recognition version of "butt dialing" called?

      Funnily enough, science fiction writers addressed this issue decades before the advent of digital assistants.

      In Niven's State books, the primary computer is activated by the use of an unusual word - one which would not be used in normal conversation, such as 'prikazyvat' (sp?), supposedly a Russian word meaning 'command'. The computer is supposed to ignore any conversation or statement not preceded by this 'safeword'.

      Of course, in order to hear the keyword, the computer has to listen all the time, and since it's listening, it may as well record everything and use it to make its own plans. Of course, it turns out generally that the keyword is only there to give citizens the illusion of control, while the machines continue to obey their State masters.

      .... with hilarious results. Or not.

    3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: What is the voice recognition version of "butt dialing" called?

      the article didnt seem to go into much detail about what route and format the employee recieved the message in

  15. JohnFen Silver badge

    Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

    This was the best case situation. The worst case situation is intentionally spying.

    The fact is that if you have these sorts of devices, you are trusting the company providing them in two ways -- that their software is bug-free, and that they will never abuse their system's capabilities. Personally, I don't think any of these companies can be trusted on either count.

    1. Oblamo BinLyen

      Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

      Anyone, and I mean ANYONE that believes for one millisecond that Jeff Bezos has best intentions for you is going to be in for a very very rude surprise. I'm wondering if 'Alexis' is close enough to trigger the spy? I do have some automation in my home but I make darn well sure that I have to physically control it. None of this voice stuff.

      I do find it interesting that the Amazon Fire doesn't have a power on light that is continuous when it's 'on'. Trust No One

      1. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

        I do find it interesting that the Amazon Fire doesn't have a power on light that is continuous when it's 'on'. Trust No One

        I physically disabled the microphone on my Fire HD8 and taped over the cameras as the first thing I did when I got it. I had a premonition something like this was going to happen. Actually anything with WiFi or a mobile connection that doesn't have a removable battery has that done to it. I won't buy a phone that doesn't have a removable battery. It means I don't have a top of the range phone but I don't really need one.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

      The fact is that if you have these sorts of devices, you are trusting the company providing them in two ways -- that their software is bug-free, and that they will never abuse their system's capabilities.

      I'd add a few more trust points:

      * that their traffic is sufficiently protected;

      * that all of their third-party add-ons are bug-free, and have been screened for malicious capabilities;

      * that they and their 'partners' do not have secret agreements to provide backdoor access to TLAs;

      * that they don't ignore their own already-pathetic privacy options.

      The list could go on and on. And we haven't even gotten to privacy and security issues with the devices that you bought Sirigooglexa to control...

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

        "Sirigooglexa "

        The word that turns all of the 'girls' on...

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

          "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". Prepare to die. Hugs and kisses, Cortana.

          1. Trumpet Winsock

            Re: Come on, who wasn't expecting this to happen?

            " Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned "

            William Congreve " The Mourning Bride "

  16. Myro117

    I have three in my home. 2 Dots and 1 Echo 2nd Gen. All three work fine. It has responded once or twice when it misheard the word "Alexa" but if people are scared of "snooping" then mobile phones are your problem.

    If Alexa snoops on you at home, then your mobile snoops on you at home, at work, at your bit on the side, your nights out. Also, mobile phones have cameras so those can also (and have already been known) to be used to spy on people.

    So for those saying "I knew Alexa was trouble" You need to look at your phones and realise THAT is your priority for (justified) paranoia.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      "if people are scared of "snooping" then mobile phones are your problem."

      Agreed. The difference is that smartphone snooping can be reduced the same level that you get with carrying just a feature phone, while retaining its fundamental usefulness.

      All of these other devices cannot. The best you can do is firewall them off or power them down, and if you do that, you've rendered them incapable of performing the functions you bought them for.

      So, for the privacy-minded individual, they are a complete non-starter, where a smartphone is not.

  17. J J Carter Silver badge
    Big Brother

    A TLA writes...

    'Hard wood flooring' is known Jihadist code-work for nuclear dirty-bomb so Alexa kept listening as designed. Nothing to see here, move along now...

    1. Commenter44655

      Re: A TLA writes...

      Was the contacts initials "NSA"? Maybe it's a simple mis-dial on Alexa's part...

  18. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    More than meets the ear...

    I've seen a few interactions which almost defy belief in the past bit, not necessarily with Alexa and it depends on the parties involved as well. #canihaveyournumber #ivestartedsoillfinish :-)

  19. Updraft102 Silver badge

    So for those saying "I knew Alexa was trouble" You need to look at your phones and realise THAT is your priority for (justified) paranoia.

    My little slider phone from 2006 is doing all that? And it still manages to go a week between charges on its original battery!

  20. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    Great move Amazon

    She said she'd asked for a refund for all their Alexa devices – something the company has so far demurred from agreeing to.

    After what happened, you think that would have been the least they could have done... Still, maybe Amazon are strapped for cash...

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Great move Amazon

      If they refund their money, Amazon won't be able to say no to everyone else who will want to return their wiretaps as well.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Great move Amazon

      If they were smart, they refund + small payment (Amazon gift card) + NDA with penalty and this never happened.

  21. ee_cc

    Edward’s advice

    Ed suggested you desolder mic and speakers of any connected device if you don’t want to be easily bugged. If you want to talk or hear something reach out for wired earpieces. Sigh, those noise cancelling far field mics do make voip crystal clear but also so much 0wned

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: Edward’s advice

      Ed suggested you desolder mic and speakers of any connected device if you don’t want to be easily bugged.

      Hm. Buy a voice-controlled smart speaker, then disconnect the mic and the speaker?

      That seems inefficient...

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Edward’s advice

        So. Would you like to hear a scary story about how plain, ordinary surface-mounted MLCC capacitors on a PCB have a non-zero aural response...?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not at all surprised.

    Has no one stopped to wonder if all this "AI" stuff is any good, why Google (and Amazons) search results are so pisspoor ?

    1. AK565

      Re: Not at all surprised.

      I've wondered that myself. For example, I know a gent who's Greek-American, speaks it fluently, is Greek Orthodox, and is gay. This is all clear from even the most cursory glimpse at his FB page. Yet FOR YEARS he's been innundated with adverts to meet and marry good Muslim women.

  23. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Some more creepiness for you

    Google Duplex sounds human when it calls to book appointments - Google Duplex will disclose that people may be recorded during conversations

    This appears to be something that allows things to be booked or ordered via a Google app or website and it rings the business in question and talks to the person to book or order whatever it is.

    There's a recording in the link. I hope any business puts the phone down on the Googlebot when it calls, if they can tell the difference (apparently only those places where they are legally obliged to say their call is being recorded).

  24. SVV Silver badge

    Introducing..... the Alexa van!

    Who wants to set up a crowdfunder for a fleet of loudspeaker-fitted vans that can drive round gadget susceptible neighbourhoods blasting out "Alexa, order me a 16" megapizza and 250 cans of Stella" and other such fun proposals? OK Google / Siri / etc can also be catered for, and the orders made as expensive / embarassing as desired.

    Premium options could include "send all my private photos to my boss" or "turn the heating up full", but this may raise a number of ethical issues I've not thought of yet....

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Introducing..... the Alexa van!

      The is why I don't like all these voice activated gadgets which don't allow the user to choose their wake up word or phrase. As per the article, "wrongly hearing its wake word" makes it difficult when there are millions of devices all with the same word.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Introducing..... the Alexa van!

        In addition to that, I feel stupid saying "hello Emma" to my lightbulb :-)

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Introducing..... the Alexa van!

      Don't forget to add "Alexa, confirm order" or whatever is needed.

    3. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Introducing..... the Alexa van!

      You're thinking too small. Try slipping just the right words (blended into other words) into a line of dialogue on a major TV show. Such that you not only include the order but any confirmations and then distract people so that they don't realize the device has been triggered until too late. There's even been research into triggering the devices using subsonic frequencies too low for us to hear, and unlike ultrasonics can likely be playable over a TV speaker.

  25. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    What could go wrong!

    You know what? I'm going to get Alexa to call Jeff Bezos and tell him to stick it where the Sun doesn't shine

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: What could go wrong!

      Careful what you wish for, you might find your Alexa waiting to ambush you next time you visit the toilet, followed by evil laughter from Bezos as he cackles "Stick it where the Sun don't shine, good one.".

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'This was an extremely rare occurrence.'

    Just like Americans giving a shit about their privacy.

    I really hope it wakes a few up though. Its sure time.

    IoT Hype & IoT Hell are just beginning. Popcorn pls...

    1. WatAWorld

      Re: 'This was an extremely rare occurrence.' In other words it was not unique.

      "Extremely rare" In other words it was not unique.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Suffice to say, this episode was unexpected

    no-one expect ALEXA! Her chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Her two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Her THREE weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to Bozo.... Her FOUR...no... AMONGST her weapons.... Amongst her weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise...

  28. scrubber

    Say what now?

    "Suffice to say, this episode was unexpected."

    Nope. Fully expected and predicted.

  29. Lorribot

    Saw great thing on TV...

    .......where someone hacked a router using teh default password. Then Managed to connect to the Android TV, hacked that and then got it to speak to Alexa and start ording stuff from Amazon. They also started the smart kettle boiling, turned on the lights and opened the curtains, all whilst sitting outside the house.

    You should have seen the home owners faces when all this was going on in the lovely smart home.

    Amazon smart door lock anyone?

  30. Sam Therapy
    FAIL

    I will never, as long as there's breath in my body and a hole in my arse, allow one of these things - or a competitor's equivalent into my home. All phones have voice recognition/"helpers" off, all other devices are dumber than a box of rocks. The only recording capability my PC has is my DAW interface for guitars and other outboard instruments. Vocal mics connected for singy bits only.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ' and a hole in my arse

      Genius, up vote just for that.

      I look forward to the time I can use this to express my displeasure.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      What happens WHEN (not if) you don't have a choice anymore and you face significant disadvantage or worse for not letting Big Brother in? Do you throw up your hands and call out, "Stop the world, I wanna get off!"?

      1. onefang Silver badge

        What happens WHEN (not if) you don't have a choice anymore...

        Then I pack my packs, head off to the bush, and don't come back this time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What happens WHEN (not if) you don't have a choice anymore...

          And what happens when they follow you with infrared surveillance satellites and so on? You have to wonder if the napalm ain't far behind...

  31. Tomato42 Silver badge

    "extremely rare occurrence"

    yes, I'm sure that it happens only once every 1 million transactions or so, which makes it a "rare occurrence"

    if they really were worried about privacy it would be technically impossible for this thing to happen

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: "extremely rare occurrence"

      "yes, I'm sure that it happens only once every 1 million transactions or so,"

      Don't forget that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

      Insert PTerry icon here ->

  32. Velv Silver badge
    Big Brother

    “our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened”

    I’ll just leave that there and let everyone consider the implications...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'let everyone consider the implications'

      Especially when you consider this other Amazon 'gem':

      https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-24/tech-superpowers-walk-the-orwellian-tightrope

  33. WatAWorld

    Do you hear Yanny, Laura or Alexa?

    Do you hear Yanny, Laura or Alexa?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Exterminate

    I just glad it wasn't a Dalek or something , we have already had some deaths due to failures to control Automita. (yes automita).

    Now it's happened we can all get some sleep (with one eye open) ,as there is no denying it happens and everybody must accept it and remain aware of it, or else we'll have to call in the Daleks for real.

  35. Don MacVittie

    Wondering why...

    El Reg, who are arseholes to just about everyone, even outside of tech, spent this article treating Amazon with kid gloves?

    Not even a "forgot to add .cia.gov to the address" comment.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Wondering why...

      Maybe Kieren didn't see the funny side this time as regular commentards know his home is full of these things. Right know if I were in that position I'd be getting rid on all of them, a sort of modern-day version of the end of Poltergeist.

  36. chivo243 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Not now...

    I'll wait for the bleeding edgers to get cut before I even consider one of these asses, I mean assistants...

  37. lglethal Silver badge
    Joke

    Alexa bad but hmmm....

    So the couple were talking about hard woods and the name of one of their employees comes up.... hmmmm.... me thinks they doth protest too much.

  38. Tom Melly

    At a guess...

    ... I'd say that the problem occurred because the software made too many assumptions. It thought it heard the wakeup call, so it then anticipated a command or request, and so on and so on. It essentially did something rather 'human' (albeit via algorithm) - it looked for a pattern where none existed.

  39. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Alert

    Reds under your bed

    And in your Echo.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Anyone else reading between the lines?

    "..We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future..."

    Hold on..."rare"? Not one off?

    Sounds to me like Amazon knows this has happened before.

    1. onefang Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Anyone else reading between the lines?

      "to avoid this from happening in the future..."

      Yes, reading between the lines they mean "to avoid being caught in the future".

  41. petethebloke

    Faustian Pact Goes Wrong

    What a feckin surprise

  42. Ole Juul Silver badge

    May I suggest . . .

    Using antidisestablishmentarianism as the wakeup word?

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the pair had just been talking about their hardwood floors

    bom chicka wah wah

    I'd choose the Paris icon since she know all there is to know about hardwood flooring

  44. William1940

    Alexa weirdness when overhearing Chinese

    My wife and I were recently staying in a cabin near Yosemite Valley that has an Alexa. I spoke some Chinese for the fun of it: Alexa, 你好,你说中文吗?Alexa responded, "Sorry, I don't know that phone number."

    Makes one wonder what might happen when a non-English speaking person or persons have one of these that has English enabled ... Voice recognition is still fairly primitive.

    Users beware ... I'd never own one of these, never, and I am very familiar with AI - 50 years of computer science ...

    LOL - Marketing is basically evil. They'll try and sell anything to make a few £$元 。。

  45. The Dark Newt

    My thoughts

    How long before these devices fall under legislation so that companies can be compelled secretly to give access to them, so that without our knowing government bodies can request they access to private conversation in the same manner as phones etc.. under the guise of anti terrorism or crime prevention.

    I don't consider myself a conspiricy theory nut, just a person who believes in the right to privacy, right to anonymity and that anti-terrorism/crime-prevention is inssuficient reason to invade those rights for an entire population or a minority. It is fact that similar powers have been abused since governments/agencies have had them and those against the idea treated with contempt so there is no reason to expect them to respect us or behave should they have even more tools in their arsenal.

    The very idea that a government considers it ok to limit a persons ability to protect their thoughts/privacy by demanding encryption keys or limiting encryption is frightening. I wish we had more brave politicians to stand up for us.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My thoughts

      What makes you think that doesn't happen already?

  46. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Did Alexa not have time-outs

    You'd not expect more than 30 seconds (preferably a lot less) before confirmation time-outs (like a valid contactee etc).

    Other than that, an unfortunate series of freaks.

    Still, I wouldn't be bothered with one.

  47. Kane Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    The new technology trials...

    ...between the CIA and Amazon seem to be working out well!

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alexa, Ctrl-Alt-Del

    Isn't Alexia the female version of Alexei? Both Russian names, perhaps this is the perfect tool.

  49. MrBoring

    Alexa is welcome to listen in on my house. 90% of the conversation i filter out and it would be good to double check what my wife asked me a few hours ago.

    Alexa "Dave, have you put the dish washer on yet like your wife asked you to do 2 hours ago?"

    1. AK565

      Likewise here. Anyone eavesdropping on my personal life will become bored very, very quickly.

  50. theExecutive

    1984

    If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself

  51. tentimes

    Total overreaction going on here!

    Guys, guys!

    It happened once out of billions of conversations. We've all seen Alexa light up and start to question us or say something non-sensical after hearing a snippet of our conversation and thinking it was for her (she does get lonely!). I simply tell her to STFU bitch and then she won't send your speech snippet anywhere on your contacts list.

    Seriously, how often is this happening? Probably more chance of winning the lottery.

    1. WereWoof

      Re: Total overreaction going on here!

      Unless you have someone called Rich in your contacts list who would be very surprised to get such message!

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Total overreaction going on here!

      "We've all seen Alexa light up and start to question us"

      Oh no we haven't. Nor will we.

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Total overreaction going on here!

      Seriously, how often is this happening? Probably more chance of winning the lottery.

      I'd far rather win the lottery.

  52. Selden

    Still Unimpressed with IoT

    As an experiment in new tech, I picked up a Google Home at a sale price when they first came out. On Google's product support forum many people complain about the "Hey Google" or "OK Google" trigger phrase, but it's a lot less likely to be triggered by mistake (unless a Google ad is playing that says "OK Google").

    The only thing I use my GH for is to stream music from Pandora (ironically, it doesn't work well with my Google Play Music library). It sits on the headboard of my bed, and sound quality is good at close range (less than 12" from my ears), and it's marginally convenient to tell it to turn off the music at a set time, or tell it to stop when I'm ready to sleep.

    After 18 months, I still don't see the point of the entire IoT product fad, including voice-activated devices, and I find the entire concept of IoT devices virtually useless. I set up a switch controlled by the GH, but it wasn't worth the effort. Elsewhere in my house I have motion-activated light switches, which work better, cost less, and work if there is an internet outage. Nothing in my experiences persuades me that IoT is a solution in search of a problem.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Still Unimpressed with IoT

      "It sits on the headboard of my bed"

      I hope you don't talk in your sleep, you could wake up to a nasty surprise.

  53. Jim McCafferty

    Nothing to see here - move along.

    Guys, guys, calm down. This wasn't a massive breach of privacy - it was just a dodgy "if" statement. We'll fix it in the next patch.

  54. sitta_europea

    "Which all sounds terrific..."

    Huh? Sounds terrific to whom? Or, did you mean to write "Which all sounds terrifying..."?

  55. Torchy

    So lucky.

    Can you imagine the embarrassment if it had recorded the two of them on the nest and passed that on to the employee............

  56. largefile

    I've gotten benefit from a smart speaker in my home.

    I've got the Harmon Kardon Invoke Cortana speaker. I put it in my kitchen' and it's given a mentally handicapped person in my household new found abilities to play music, tell jokes, and provide random "tell me something interesting" tidbits that fascinate and engage her. Prior to this she was a technology shut in and I had to look up or do everything for her on the internet or with audio devices.

    I don't use it for much else but it's nice to have radio and music hands free in the kitchen and a few other similar perks. I've used to create an ongoing shopping list which also appears on my mobile phone which is handy in the store. "Hey Cortana, add oregano and paper towels to my shopping list."

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BOFH?

    Please ask Simon to integrate this technology at the BOFH's office. I'm sure it'll rise to the level of humor we had in the piece with the SNMP managed wheelchair.

  58. HellDeskJockey

    I like my smarthome but keep it off the internet. I have no need of clicking the lights on and off from work. Also while the stuff is getting better you should still have some technical knowledge. You will have to do some maintenance on it periodically. If you don't like tech use a light switch.

  59. whatsyourShtoile
    Mushroom

    Jeff Bezos doesn't make $12b a day by NOT spying on everyone

    He sees you when you're sleeping

    He knows when you're awake

    He knows if you've been bad or good

    So be good for goodness sake

  60. martinusher Silver badge

    You realize that you've got to enable this type of messaging?

    I think we're definitely at the "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" state (postulated by Arthur C Clarke). I work with software and communications, I've been doing so for decades, so I'm pretty much up to speed about how these devices work, their characteristics, imitations and so on. That doesn't mean that I'm totally gung-ho about them but at the same time I don't fear them -- they're just machines.

    This is a site that caters for the technically literate. As workers in this field we should all have a basic understanding of the technologies and, equally as important, have regular contact with sales and marketing types who are typically the drivers when it comes to abusing a technology. Our job should be to educate the public, to get them to understand the what', whos and whys rather than going into Outer Limits mode.

    (That said, I'm amazed at the number of people who are regular users of applications like Facebook, people who really should know better.)

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: You realize that you've got to enable this type of messaging?

      "have regular contact with sales and marketing types"

      I try to avoid them, with a lot of success.

  61. Jake Maverick

    I can't believe even the idiots are actually buying these. They only 'know' because 'it screwed up'.....but you actually have no way of knowing when it is recording and when it isn't or who is listening....this is the state's wet dream! They're forced to give access to the state anyway.....you ever wondering what those buildings in Utah are actually for....? far more storage space exists that can possibly be required for copying themselves into everybody's emails and dick pics....

  62. Why Not?

    Not as bad as shag book.

    It seems the users must have responded to multiple prompts or there weren't enough in the first place.

    To those that fear a HAL like experience then try one of the Alexa compatibles. Items like the Jam voice require you to push a button before it responds (and records). Guess what I have!

    Its time for Amazon to add an option in the app to switch off always listen and only respond after a button press, If they want they can allow you to pair a bluetooth camera trigger button (as available for £1 in Poundland) to supplement the dot button on the device.

    It would help them break into the office as well.

    Or they can try to shut the stable door after this. Lets see how they get on.

    1. Clarecats

      Re: Not as bad as shag book.

      "Items like the Jam voice require you to push a button before it responds (and records). Guess what I have!"

      You think it requires you to push a button. How long before this is irrelevant but you are not informed?

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Smart assistants'

    I wouldn't want one even if they paid me.

    My home is 'smart' enough; there is no need for intervention with gadgets.

    Just because mobile phones got really smart over the past decade (becoming portable mini computers), doesn't mean we want that technology 24/7 embedded in our homes.

  64. David Roberts Silver badge
    Trollface

    Looked through their logs....

    Obviously the logs for your device are also available locally so that you can check them from time to time to confirm that the device has only been activated when you expected/intended.

  65. ILoveGadgets

    You Just Can't Kill The Beast...

    Alexa and other such devices are just the tip of a very big iceburg.

    Many of you will have heard of Multics and probably thought it was obsolete and just a waypoint on the path to the operating systems we have today.

    That is only partly true, the hardware and software technology of Multics faded into the mists of time, having done their job and inspired the creation of newer, more achievable, cheaper tech.

    The problem is that Multics was not just an OS it was also a business model and that is very much alive and indeed thriving.

    The original idea is that people and businesses would not own computers, they would instead rent capacity on giant central computers. All of their data and processes would be kept centrally.

    Did you really think cloud computing was a new idea?

    Now on the way, the business model of Multics seems to have fallen in love with Orwells 1984 and Alexa is the bastard child of a very unholy alliance.

    1. raving angry loony

      Re: You Just Can't Kill The Beast...

      The difference is also that Multics was secure, and given the clients we worked with that security was a main feature baked into both the hardware and the operating system. Whereas today security is an afterthought that is loosely tacked on, if they even bothered.

      But yes, the whole cloud computing model does somewhat resemble the whole central mainframe concept. Not just Multics, but CDC and IBM and others had similar models, although I admit to a bias towards Multics having gotten it more correct. But computing has always gone through these waves of "distributed computing", then "centralized computing", then back again.

  66. raving angry loony
    Flame

    Surveillance state

    So people bought a device that can (a) record their conversations and (b) call out and play that conversation for others and they're surprised that it does exactly that?

    All code has bugs, especially since we live in a world where quality of code plays a distant second to quantity and adding new, untested features. Untested in any real sense, I'm sure they gave it a regression test or two. Maybe. Sometimes. If you're lucky. One of several reasons I quit the whole industry.

    Definitely won't find me with one of those devices in my home. Sure, they can probably be convenient. Not just for the owner, unfortunately, but also for the advertising company that sold it, anyone that company has "deals" with, and of course for any script kiddie out there who relishes the fact that "security" in these devices is either tacked on as an afterthought, or even non-existent.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Surveillance state

      "Definitely won't find me with one of those devices in my home."

      Care to wager on that? One will probably SNEAK in next attached to something you didn't know about.

  67. Pat Harkin

    Isn't this just the equivalent of the pocket dial?

    I've received several calls from peoples' pockets over the years but that doesn't seem to have sparked the paranoia this one Alexa report has.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019