Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home


According to reports by NPR, Reuters, and German magazine c't, Amazon mistakenly sent over a thousand Alexa recordings to the wrong user.

Amazon restricted access to the audio files, but by then, the German Amazon customer had already downloaded all of them.

It said that the man had provided the recordings to the magazine and it was able to get in touch with person in question. "As a precautionary measure we contacted the relevant authorities", the Amazon spokesman said.

C't magazine listened to numerous files and was able "to piece together a detailed picture of the customer concerned and his personal habits". Using these files, it was fairly easy to identify the person involved and his female companion.

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It appears that the fears of privacy and data protection advocates in regards to voice powered devices have come true; at least in a single case where Amazon leaked a customer's voice data to another customer. Those who have been viewing voice commerce as a high priority, and have been emphasizing voice application development ahead of other projects are unlikely to slow down, with the base of smart speaker device users still growing at a double-digit rate.

When an Amazon customer in Germany contacted the company to review his archived data, he wasn't expecting to receive recordings of a stranger speaking in the privacy of a home.

Imagine if you had Amazon Alexa-enabled speakers all over your house. There have been proven cases of it recording without users knowing, but Amazon has generally managed to explain them away as anomalies.

Amazon says it needs to store these recordings to improve its voice-recognition systems, but people who frequently speak to their smart speaker should think twice before telling Alexa any secrets.

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Eventually, using weather queries, public transport inquiries, alarms, and even Spotify commands, the reporters zeroed in on the guy.

The unnamed individual contacted Amazon to ask for all the records the company held on him, a right European Union citizens have as part of the recently enacted GDPR privacy legislation.

Within a few days, both Schneider and the unwitting exhibitionist had been contacted by Amazon, who told them that someone in the company had made a "one-time error". Amazon blamed the incident on "human error", saying that it was able to optimize its processes following the incident.

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