Author Topic: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)  (Read 1769 times)

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Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« on: May 25, 2018, 04:09:57 PM »
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Alexa recorded a couple's private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon said it's "an extremely rare occurrence." Get this thing out of your home, folks.

https://t.co/0M0SNoucJg

I'm not so sure I'd want an Amazon echo now or anytime ever I don't want technology spying on me in my home. I don't believe they hype about them I'd rather have RadioDJ play my music.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2018, 08:32:00 PM »
Well, to be 'fair', they apparently said several 'key words', or words that sounded like those 'key words' that made the Echo record and then send what they said to a random contact. So it wasn't entirely the Echo's fault here.

I've had one practically since they came out, and one thing that I don't do is connect my phone to it. If I'm gonna call someone, I want to do the dialing, not have something else do it for me, that's just plain lazy as hell... ;)
I think the main problem is the Echo's 'skill system'. There are all of these 'skills' (or apps if you prefer, but they are called skills if you search for them) that you can download to make the Echo do all kinds of things that it may not do by default. Some of these skills are written by reputable companies, others are written by god-knows-who and uploaded to the 'store' for anyone to download and use. Apparently, it only has to be a functional skill to qualify for placement on the skill store, as there are some pretty strange skills on there, if you poke around a bit and read what they do versus the title, which sometimes has nothing to do with what the skill actually does. ???

Anyway, if people would do a little bit of reading instead of just downloading something because it 'looks good', some of this could be avoided.
I have a couple of skills on my Echo, mostly related to home automation as my wife has to walk on crutches and it's hard for her to just jump up and go do this or that, so I have our Echo setup to allow her to do simple things like turn lights on or off, stuff like that, without having to get up and walk across the room to do it.
Mine has never recorded anything, at least not to my knowledge, and the phone app for it shows no recordings have ever been made, so until I see something to cause me some real concern, I'm not too worried about the damn thing... :D
The phone app only allows access to the Echo's settings, you have to use a skill to actually connect your phone functions to it. Which is apparently what this couple did...

Bottom line: Don't connect your phone to the damn thing and be careful what skills you download for it. If it's not an absolute necessity, don't get it.

On another note, this is sorta like all the fuss with Facebook and social media, people fussing about privacy and why companies are getting to their info.
Everyone wants to blame social media when in actuality, it's the user's fault. If you don't want someone gaining access to your personal info, then DO NOT POST IT ONLINE! :bash:

Privacy problem solved...
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2018, 11:16:30 PM »
On another note, this is sorta like all the fuss with Facebook and social media, people fussing about privacy and why companies are getting to their info.
Everyone wants to blame social media when in actuality, it's the user's fault. If you don't want someone gaining access to your personal info, then DO NOT POST IT ONLINE! :bash:

Privacy problem solved...
The biggest issue people are unhappy with is the data collected and shared WITHOUT posting it online, like browsing history, things you've liked, disliked, etc.

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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2018, 12:30:38 AM »
I'm using Alexa for my web radio (Funky Corner Radio) as a free service at the moment still in beta from a provider (autopo.st), but I can't test it because in Italy the service from Alexa Amazon is starting only now and I don't have a device.
Capt_Fuzzy, may I ask you to "tell" 'Alexa, play funky radio' and see what happens, if you are directed to my web radio or something else? I started this service in April and I reached about 300 people mostly from Usa and England. Thanks for your feedback :)   
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2018, 07:35:25 PM »
Wouldn't have them in my house.  It's two way communications THEY Listen. :huh:  No Thanks
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2018, 10:07:22 PM »
I'm using Alexa for my web radio (Funky Corner Radio) as a free service at the moment still in beta from a provider (autopo.st), but I can't test it because in Italy the service from Alexa Amazon is starting only now and I don't have a device.
Capt_Fuzzy, may I ask you to "tell" 'Alexa, play funky radio' and see what happens, if you are directed to my web radio or something else? I started this service in April and I reached about 300 people mostly from Usa and England. Thanks for your feedback :)   
Sure, I can give it a shot.., be back with the results in a few... ;)

EDIT: Well, I wasn't able to get your station to come up, it kept going to 'Funky Soul Classics' on Amazon Music, or something like that...
For what it's worth, I've never been able to get it to play my station either, not that I've tried all that hard.

I suspect that this works through some sort of 'skill' that I'll have to download, so I'll look into it and see what I can find and maybe test this again in a couple of days.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2018, 12:46:36 AM »
I suspect that this works through some sort of 'skill' that I'll have to download, so I'll look into it and see what I can find and maybe test this again in a couple of days.

Thanks Capt, I will investigate on my part.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2018, 08:39:37 AM »
Thanks Capt, I will investigate on my part.
From what I've been able to find out, you do have to have a 'skill' created for the Echo to find your station.
Apparently, Alexa cannot just scan the internet and then stream any random station. It also seems that about the only music streaming services that 'she' can search are Amazon Music and TuneIn, Shoutcast seems to have been left out altogether, for whatever reason. ???
My Echo can stream Sirius XM, but that also requires a 'skill' to use.

I did see where a couple of people were working on a kind of audio player skill that would be capable of pulling up stations on Shoutcast, but based on what I've read, it's nowhere near ready to test yet... :(

Right now, about the only way to easily play an internet radio stream on the Echo is to pull it up on a tablet or phone and use Bluetooth to connect to the Echo and play it that way, but this apparently has issues with quality. If you have a good quality device, then the audio from the Echo will sound awesome. If, however, you have a 'lower quality' device, then the playback can sound downright horrid.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2018, 03:51:28 AM »
Capt, you did a great job  :ok: I will open a ticket in autopo.st site explaining what you have found out.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2018, 10:17:13 AM »
Wouldn't have them in my house.  It's two way communications THEY Listen. :huh:  No Thanks

I don't get why people aren't outraged by the fact its listening to them...  You want your privacy invading then sure keep using your Echo's with Alexa.

Yes sure it can do millions of amazing things but there's often a price to pay for all that stuff...

If we thought for one second a piece of tech was spying on us in this flat we'd be getting rid of it straight away.

Someone please tell me a Google Chromecast doesn't have a microphone otherwise that's getting switched off when not in use.
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2018, 06:50:16 PM »
I don't get why people aren't outraged by the fact its listening to them...  You want your privacy invading then sure keep using your Echo's with Alexa.
The funny thing is that when you're buying a device like this, you should realize that, yes, it's listening to you.  It's programmed to do that.  That's why it accepts voice commands.
Quote
If we thought for one second a piece of tech was spying on us in this flat we'd be getting rid of it straight away.
Well, get rid of your cell phone, macbook, Windows machine.  Anything with a microphone & "voice controlled assistant."  Android has "OK Google", Apple has Siri, and Windows has Cortana.  As for "Spying on you"... I really don't think any of these companies has the desire to know what you're planning for lunch or what time you turn your light on or off.  On top of that, think about what apps or skills you're adding to these devices & know what NOT to say to have your conversations emailed out.


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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2018, 07:09:13 PM »
The funny thing is that when you're buying a device like this, you should realize that, yes, it's listening to you.  It's programmed to do that.  That's why it accepts voice commands.Well, get rid of your cell phone, macbook, Windows machine.  Anything with a microphone & "voice controlled assistant."  Android has "OK Google", Apple has Siri, and Windows has Cortana.  As for "Spying on you"... I really don't think any of these companies has the desire to know what you're planning for lunch or what time you turn your light on or off.  On top of that, think about what apps or skills you're adding to these devices & know what NOT to say to have your conversations emailed out.
Exactly!! :cool:
Personal security should be 'proactive' and not left to other companies to do for you. These other companies are run by humans and can be just as fallible as you, so it's never a bad thing to get personally involved in your own personal security.
If you think that someone may hack your phone, then don't use banking and pay apps on your phone.
I know it's convenient and the 'in thing' right now to just flip your phone at the card reader and your payment is made, but I think the possible hazards of this type of thing get lost to the overall convenience of it and people just don't think about it.., until their info gets stolen, then the first thing that they want to do is sue everyone that might have had the least bit to do with it, when if they'd just have not used that app or had that info on their phone in the first place, then the hackers could never have got it to begin with. At least not that way anyway... ;)
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2018, 10:06:30 AM »
Interesting subject...

I think we have to understand firstly that, if a device has a microphone and the device is programmed to listen to everything (to see if the trigger word is being said at any time) then yes, it is always listening. Remember radio people, "Treat every microphone as live!".

That said, surely we're not thinking that it is recording everything we are saying? For a start, with tens of millions of devices sold, recording every single device 24/7 would quickly fill up AWS (Amazon Web Services) infrastructure regardless of how large it is...

What probably happened in this case is that a series of words, in a series of combinations, triggered the device to a) trigger a skill, b) start recording and c) send it to the person.

Am I defending what happened? NO!
Is technology getting too clever? Yes!
Is that bad? No!

Do I sometimes get a little spooked out at how much data is being stored about my every movement? Yes, I certainly do, but there are settings for that...

Interesting related story, my partner was working from home recently and having a sensitive work-related telephone conversation and noticed that our Google Home started up and was flashing lights (indicating it was doing something), so she immediately unplugged it. We do not know what it was doing, but it could have easily been recording the conversation and sending it off somewhere, all because of a few triggered keywords. The solution? Unplug it if you son't want it getting out.

A few days later we our out having a meal and my phone (Android) just woke up and said "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that". I'm positive I didn't say "OK Google" half way through the sentence, it just couldn't hear what we were talking about and wanted some gossip! ;-)

Developing our Alexa skills I have 3 devices sat in front of me at all times, not a day goes by whereby one of them jumps into action thinking I've said a trigger word.

As I said, interesting subject!
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Re: Beware Alexa (Amazon Echo)
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2018, 04:32:58 PM »
Having owned an Echo for over 2 yrs now, I've come to learn that it doesn't technically listen to everything that you say, 24/7.
What it DOES do is listen for the main activation keyword, in this case, the name Alexa.

When you say "Alexa" it then begins to actively listen for command keywords, like 'turn on the lights' or 'play Sirius XM', something along those lines.
Every skill has a keyword or key phrase that activates that particular skill.
What probably happened with the couple was that they may have known a person with the name 'Alexa' or a name that sounds similar to it, 'Alex' or 'Alexei' or something like that. During the course of their conversation, which probably took place within proximity to the Echo, the name was probably said, then there was probably a phrase that either sounded similar to, or exactly was 'start recording' or 'record'.
Likewise, during the conversation, one of them could've said something along the lines of "I'm gonna call Frank" or "Call Frank" or "Send the files to Frank" and that initiated the voice dial system on their paired phone and sent the recordings out to them.

This is of course speculation on my part as I've not seen any details on what exactly that they said and what exact apps or skills that they have installed on their Echo, but based on my experience with the device, this is the best explanation of what could have happened.

My best advice to anyone wanting to get one of these things is simply this:
1. Know exactly what you are getting BEFORE you buy it. Do some research on what the device can and can't do.
2. Unless you feel that it is an absolute necessity, never pair your phone with the device. If you feel that you have to pair your phone with it, for whatever reason, then make certain to access the settings and see if it allows you to change the keyword trigger.
A lot of these skills do allow for a small amount of 'customization', take advantage of it and use a keyword that is something unique and something that you don't say frequently.
3. If you are going to have a 'sensitive' conversation that you do not want anyone else to be privy to the details of, then either discuss it out of range of the Echo, or even easier yet, power down or unplug the device. It cannot 'hear' you if it's 'deaf'... ;)

One last, but important detail:
Read the description of each skill and understand it fully before you install it.
The biggest majority of the published skills are very useful, but there are some that are meant for fun or entertainment, and even a smaller few that are meant to be used simply as a joke or gag. These are the ones that you have to be wary of. While the skills system is very flexible and capable of doing a lot of different things, just because it can do something doesn't necessarily mean that it should.
Just use a little common sense, if a skill's description states that it can make the Echo make a "fart noise" when you say the word 'gas', while that may be hilarious when you are having an informal get-together, it may not be as funny if the "boss" happens to stop by unannounced. :D
Steve 'Capt Fuzzy' Wade
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