Amazon's Alexa hears anchorman report story, puts in orders for dollhouses



There is a downside to smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. Since they are made to respond to the spoken word, some times the devices don't take into consideration the source of those words. For example, the other day a 6-year old girl from Dallas named Brooke Neitzel ordered a $162 dollhouse and four pounds of cookies from Alexa by using the Amazon Echo Dot that her parents received for the holidays.

Brooke's order became known when her parents received an email confirmation. But the best was yet to come. The CW6 television station in San Diego, known as CW6, some how got wind of the story. Anchors Jim Patton and Lynda Martin were talking on the morning news about the dollhouse and four pounds of cookies ordered by Brooke Neitzel. Patton said, "I love the little girl, saying 'Alexa order me a dollhouse." Perhaps that was not the best way to phrase that statement.

As soon as the words left Patton's lips, Echo devices all over San Diego started ordering dollhouses. There are a couple of reasons why that happened. One, as anyone who owns an Echo device knows, Alexa is activated by saying "Alexa," followed by the task you want her to do. Secondly, these smart speakers do not differentiate between voices. Put it all together, and Jim Patton told Amazon Echo units near television sets tuned to CW6 to "order me a dollhouse." Alexa connects to Amazon's online store, and while writing this story and reading it back, yours truly almost ordered a dollhouse using Amazon Prime.

Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher for ESET North America, says eventually these devices will be able to tell voices apart. But for now, he notes that the FTC is investigating voice-controlled technology for safety reasons.


By the way, there are safeguards that can be taken. Using the Alexa app, voice purchasing can be disabled, or a confirmation code could be set up. That code would have to be spoken before an order placed through Alexa is confirmed. Even with this protection, if an accidental order gets through, Amazon says that it can be returned for free.

source: CW6 via Engadget

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8 Comments

1. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1324; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

So it comes with voice purchasing activated out of the box with no confirmation required? Almost seems intentional.

2. mikehunta727 unregistered

Seriously lol Amazon wants their Echo to stealth order stuff while people are away/sleep

3. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2361; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

There are some other issues they need to hammer out as well. For instance, I sometimes use it to send a text to people when I have my hands full, but it doesn't let you confirm the text you want to send. It just goes ahead and sends the text message, mistakes and all.

6. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

They should at least repeat your message plus a confirmation to sent. Otherwise not a good idea to use the features.

4. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

Voice purchasing is not enabled by default. You have to manually disable it.

5. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

*You have to manually ENABLE it. My bad.

7. p51d007

Posts: 704; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

I use to jack with a coworker who had one of the first apple watches if I noticed the display was lit and would say something to siri obnoxious just to garner a response.

9. krystian

Posts: 423; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

Cortana only responds to my voice and can be trained. Alexa should be able to as well, maybe add specific voices that are associated with accounts and then those accounts have permissions. Seems logical that someone in the house would act as an administrator. Don't get why companies don't think of this stuff.

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