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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

It’s Alexa, and I’ve got some gossip for you

The truth is, we don’t know the truth about these artificial intelligence devices.

A device in a smart home.

A device in a smart home. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Dear Alexa,

I can’t trust you anymore.

It was bad enough when you eavesdropped on my private conversations, but now you’re passing them on to others. Shame on you!

True story: A woman in Oregon who gives her name only as Danielle says she was recently having a discussion with her husband. Soon after, she got an ominous call: “Unplug your Alexa devices now — you’re being hacked!”

No, not hacked; their Amazon Alexa device was sending their private conversations to one of her husband’s employees.

Dubious, they asked the man for proof. “You sat there talking about hardwood floors,” he said.

Oh, my God. Their “virtual assistant” device was sharing their private chats!

“My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,’ ” Danielle told a Seattle TV station.

Not so funny now, huh, Danielle?

Danielle and her husband unplugged all of their devices, then called Amazon. The company apologized profusely, then released a convoluted explanation:

“Echo [Alexa] woke up due to a word in background conversation that sounded like Alexa.” Which word might that be? Rex? Mexico? Sex?

“Then, 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 customer’s contact list . . . As unlikely as this string of events is . . .”

You think?

The truth is, we don’t know the truth about these artificial intelligence devices, what they pick up and where they transmit our private conversations.

But it gets worse. According to NBC.com, some owners of the device have reported that Alexa is letting out a random, spontaneous and eerie laugh.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Perhaps these “smart” devices are becoming too smart for their own good. Yeah, it’s fun to have them play songs on command. But it’s not fun when they not only listen in on your most intimate discussions, but share them without your knowledge.

So it’s time to say goodbye. For a while, Alexa, you were my trusted virtual assistant. I’m sorry, but now you’ve become creepy. We don’t feel safe with you around anymore and want you out.

Isn’t that right, Siri?

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.

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