For some unknown reason, Americans are okay with giving away their privacy to perfect strangers, as long as they can own the latest technology the market has to offer. Such is the case with the Alexa, the Amazon device that “never stops listening” to you…and more.

A mommy blog called Cool Mom Tech is a perfect example of how willing parents are to allow a device that most would consider very invasive to interact with her children because, she claims, her kids “love quizzing” the device.

My kids love quizzing Alexa on pretty much any bit of trivia we’re debating at home. If yours are the same, they’ll love asking your Echo, “Hey, Alexa! Where’s Santa?” and getting a clever response from their robot pal. Just don’t let them ask, “Alexa, what’s mom bought from Amazon recently?” Gulp.

Now, the Daily Caller is reporting that one of Amazon’s newest projects is researching ways to make Alexa a more human-like communicator for customers, but sometimes the virtual assistant’s language comes across as creepy and offensive.

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New research is making Alexa better mimic human response, Reuters reported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. The research sometimes results in awkward moments for people who frequently interact with the device.

One user, for instance, was surprised after Alexa said: “Kill your foster parents.” It’s not an isolated incident, according to Reuters. There are also instances of Alexa chatting with users about graphic sex acts and dogs defecating.

The report also showed sources noting that a hack of Amazon traced back to China likely exposed some customers’ data. The hack comes as the company works night-and-day on operations making artificial intelligence better at handling complex human interactions.

The discussions Amazon’s Alexa has with its users should be of grave concern to Americans, but what also should be of grave concern to users is Alexa’s ability to listen to you, even when you’re not engaging with the device.

According to the tech site, makeuseof.com, there are some serious questions consumers should ask before placing an Alexa in their home:

  • One of the most common knocks against the Echo is that it’s “always listening.” While this is true, most people don’t understand what exactly Alexa is listening for. Who’s to say Amazon doesn’t upload a few extra seconds of audio before Alexa to see what you were talking about before your command? It would be easy to do.
  • The Echo Look, one of Amazon’s newest devices, has a camera designed to take regular pictures of you and help you get fashion advice. While its intended use might be great, are you comfortable having a camera in your living room that could capture pictures of your children and store them on Amazon’s servers? How would you feel if the bedroom camera went off and captured your spouse in their underwear?

Or worse?

The Creepy Drop-In Feature

  • The Look isn’t the only camera-equipped Echo device. Amazon’s Echo Show (our review) and the smaller Echo Spot both have screens and cameras. These allow you to do all sorts of tasks that the standard Echo devices can’t do, including video chats. They also include a feature called Drop-In that’s a privacy invasion waiting to happen. Basically, Drop-In allows you to video call a trusted friend without them confirming the call. Normally, when you initiate a call, the other party must accept. But if you enable Drop-In for a certain user, calling them will allow you to start seeing video from their Echo after a few seconds of a “frosted glass” view.
  • We discussed Alexa’s listening habits earlier, but there’s another key factor. When you issue a command to your Echo, Amazon keeps a recording of what you said and Alexa’s response tied to your account. You can actually go back and listen to these (or delete them) later.

 


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