Tech expert: Alexa is 'listening to you all the time'

Privacy concerns: Alexa is 'listening to you all the time'
Published: Feb. 11, 2017 at 3:51 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2017 at 10:51 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FOX19 - "Alexa," the new Amazon virtual assistant, has great applications, but it's also causing minor headaches and major concerns.

Alexa and the Amazon Echo hit the market back in November and it's been a huge hit for Amazon.

But there are concerns about the digital assistant, from hacking worries to kids accidentally ordering items.

That happened to one Northern Kentucky family after Alexa had a conversation with a four-year-old.

"For Christmas, my oldest son Jackson, got the Echo Dot," said father Mike Popil.

The Echo Dot is Amazon's voice-enabled device and its virtual assistant.

Unlike Mary Poppins, Alexa sits on the table, plugged into the wall, awaiting commands.

Her wake word, the name "Alexa."

When four-year-old Miles asked her a question, it was "lost in translation."

Alexa heard a request for lighting options, so she found a wireless plug for a light that could be controlled by her.

When she asked Miles if he would like to buy it, he said "ok."

"I was at work Tuesday, Christmas was the previous Sunday and there was a shipping confirmation in our Amazon account," said Popil. "I talked to my wife, she had no idea what it was, I had no idea what it was, so we went home and looked at Amazon."

"It's listening to you all the time," said FOX19 NOW's tech expert Dave Hatter.

He doesn't plan on setting up the Echo in his house. He has privacy concerns about Alexa and other voice-controlled devices. There have been other reports of amusing misunderstandings like the Popils' but also serious privacy issues.

Investigators in an Arkansas murder case are trying to use a search warrant to get the audio recordings of a suspect's Amazon echo.

When is Alexa listening and recording? What's happening to that information?

"Folks are buying the thing without understanding all the potential implications, some of which may not be good," said Hatter. "My bigger concern is can it be hacked, what's happening to everything when you haven't said Alexa, does it store it for a long time? What's the security of that storage?"

Amazon insists the data is encrypted and hack-proof.

The device lights up when she's listening, but there are ways to turn Alexa off. There is a mute button on the physical device and to avoid unintentional purchases, users can also enable ordering restrictions on the app/

Something the Popils did after they looked up the audio recording between Miles and Alexa.

"When we heard it, it was hilarious although a little scary, that he could just go on there and order it," said Popil. "That was a learning experience for everybody."

From now on, when chatting with Alexa, the boys will stick to questions about the weather.

Security experts say the data sent to Amazon's server is encrypted, but what's not clear is how long it's stored and if that information will eventually be sold to a third party.

Copyright 2017 WXIX. All rights reserved.