Amazon’s latest gadget designed to make life easier has inadvertently made it a bit more complicated for some users after automatically ordering a product being discussed on TV.
The Amazon Echo is a wi-fi enabled speaker with voice recognition technology that can answer questions, complete basic tasks such as switching on other home devices and, crucially, make purchases when instructed.
Earlier this week a TV station in the US carried a report about a six-year old girl who managed to order a doll’s house with her parents’ Amazon Echo. As if that were not worry enough for viewers, their own Amazon Echoes also heard the report and ordered doll’s houses as well.
The purchase was triggered because the device starts recording whenever it hears the word “Alexa”, recording sound for up to 60 seconds each time. In the TV show, the presenter, Jim Patton, said: “I love the little girl saying ‘Alexa ordered me a doll house’.” That was apparently enough for the device to “wake up” and make the purchase.
It is unclear how many doll’s houses were ordered. Security experts said that it highlighted the need for people to password-protect their Echoes, which have voice-command purchases switched on as a default option.
David Emm at Kaspersky Lab, a web security company, told the Telegraph: “People need to find a compromise between achieving security and enjoying the convenience of these gadgets. It is certainly advisable to opt for having a verbal password or code to minimise the risk.”
It is not the first time that comments on TV have been recognised by voice-controlled gadgets. Two years ago an advert for the Xbox games console which said “Xbox On” woke up many consoles fitted with the Kinect sensor.
A spokesman for Amazon said: “You must ask Alexa to order a product and then confirm the purchase with a ‘yes’ response to purchase via voice. If you asked Alexa to order something by accident, simply say ‘no’ when asked to confirm. You can also manage your shopping settings in the Alexa app, such as turning off voice-purchasing or requiring a confirmation code before every order. Additionally, orders you place for physical products are eligible for free returns.”