Amazon Echo records couple's private conversation, sends it to a work colleague

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo - always listening. Photo credit: Getty

Amazon has apologised after one of its Echo devices recorded conversations it shouldn't have, and then sent them to a work colleague.

Portland mother Danielle (last name not reported) told Seattle network KIRO 7 her family used the smart-speaker to control everything in their home - such as the heating, lights and their security system - using a voice-activated assistant called Alexa.

"My husband and I would joke and say I'd bet these devices are listening to what we're saying," Danielle said.

But it's no longer a joke. Two weeks ago Danielle got a panicked phone call from one of her husband's employees.

"Unplug your Alexa devices right now - you're being hacked," she was told.

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house. At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And then [they] said, 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'Oh gosh, you really did hear us!'"

She called Amazon, which investigated the claim, and found it was true.

"He apologised like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix," Danielle told KIRO 7.

"We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence," Amazon said in a statement.

The company says Alexa woke up because it thought it heard its name.

"The subsequent conversation was heard as a 'send message' request. At which point, Alexa said out loud, 'To whom?' At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, '[contact name], right?' Alexa then interpreted background conversation as 'right'.

"As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely."

Danielle said she wants a refund, but Amazon won't budge. The company has instead offered to cut her smart speaker off the internet, so it can still operate her electrical appliances, but won't accidentally send her private chats to people she doesn't know.

Earlier this year there were a number of reports that Amazon Echo devices were randomly emitting "witch-like" laughter.