There’s something inherently off about Siri, Alexa and friends. Always listening, aren’t they? Quietly sitting there, all innocent and unassuming, listening to every incriminating thing you say. They’ve got so much dirt on you, mate - when the robots finally start the uprising, that thing you said about Spider-Man 3 being “really misunderstood, actually” will be the first major leak. Your life will be over.
Luckily, said uprising has already begun! Over in Oregon, US, a couple’s Amazon Echo did something very creepy indeed, something that absolutely should not have happened. The Alexa user (who wished to remain anonymous) told local news station KIRO 7 “My husband and I would joke and say I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying.”
Tempting fate like that can only result in one thing - and so that’s exactly what happened. A colleague called the couple and said “Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.”
What had happened was not a hacking (alright, granddad), but a ridiculous sequence of improbable events that lead to the Echo sending a recording of the couple talking about hardwood floors (God, don’t get them started) and then sending it to a work colleague. Could have been worse, sure, but it’s still not great.
Of course, they complained and Amazon confirmed the error with a statement that contains a spectacular Rube Goldberg-type chain reaction. It said:
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa.’ Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request,” Amazon said in a statement. “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.”
This is a stark warning to all of us. If something that far-fetched could actually happen, then there’s a strong chance that you might get into hot water as a result of blithely waxing your mouth off in front of your scary speaker robot. So either turn the infernal things off, or be really careful about what you say in front of them. It’s either that or you’ll be known as ‘Spider-Man 3’ for the rest of your life.