Senators Press Amazon Over Alexa Privacy Blunder

Two Senators are pressing Amazon to take steps to insure that its Echo device doesn't transmit people's private conversations without their permission.

"The increasing popularity of in-home, internet-connected devices and voice-activated technologies raises questions about the types of data they collect, store, and share, and the degree to which consumers control their personal information," Senators Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) said this week in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "Companies, like Amazon, that offer services through these devices must address these concerns by prioritizing consumer privacy and protecting sensitive personal information."

The lawmakers' letter comes in response to reports that the Echo sent a recording of a Portland, Oregon couple's private conversation to one of their contacts.

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Amazon later said that the device wrongly interpreted a word in the conversation as "Alexa," at which point the device started recording. The Echo then misunderstood other parts of the conversation as a command to send an audio file to a contact.

The lawmakers say that explanation raises the possibility that other Echo users will have their privacy violated.

"While Amazon has stated that the company is evaluating options to make this series of events less likely to occur, we are concerned that the device in this instance performed precisely how it was designed," they write. "Without prompt and meaningful action, we expect that additional instances like the one summarized above will happen again."

They are requesting that Amazon answer a series of questions, including how many complaints it has received from consumers who say that Echo misinterpreted commands. They also ask how Amazon uses and stores people's voice data, and how the company protects that data from misuse, among other questions.

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