5 On Your Side

Cary man says 'Alexa' disclosed private conversation

Posted June 6
Updated June 7

— Would you want a private conversation with your spouse recorded and sent to someone you know without your knowledge?

A Cary man says it happened to him, and he's pointing the finger at his Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice-command system.

Rob Signore reached out to 5 On Your Side after a recent story about the increase in so-called "connected homes."

"Our insurance agent called me and said, 'Hey, Rob, I think that Alexa was listening to something and sent me a message that, um, you probably didn't want me to hear,'" Signore said.

Signore has three Echoes in his home, and they control many functions in his house, from door locks to lights to garage doors and even the thermostat.

Messaging and phone calls are some of the newer features added to Alexa's repertoire, and they are supposed to work only between Echo owners in an individual's phone contacts.

Luckily, Signore says the 20-second message Alexa sent to his insurance agent was harmless.

"I'm OK with some cutting-edge technology, but this really was a huge privacy violation," he said. "It caught a humorous conversation, but it really could have picked up any conversation that we wouldn't want other people to hear. It just blew my mind that, without knowing that I asked to send it, nor did it verify that I wanted to send it, that it sent the message."

The only way to disable Alexa's messaging feature is to call Amazon. A company spokeswoman told 5 On Your Side they haven't had any similar complaints.

"Alexa is only looking for the wake word and then, 'Alexa, send a message to,' and their name," Amazon spokeswoman Rachel Hass said.

Signore says he doesn't know what triggered his message fiasco, but he wants to get the word out to warn others.

"It's extremely convenient, and we do love it, but we certainly are concerned about the security risks and want other people to know about it as well," he said.

Amazon says Alexa can be muted, which will make it stop listening, but that doesn't disable the messaging or call feature.

Security experts who have talked to 5 On Your Side have previously flagged concerns with connected devices, questioning security because they hit the market so quickly.

2 Comments

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  • Zeke Reynolds Jun 7, 11:17 a.m.
    user avatar

    Seems like part of the story is missing here. The device doesn't just randomly turn on and start recording, then sending out recordings to random people. It just does not work that way.

    Most likely he was saying something in his conversation that sounded nearly identical to a command to do what it did.

  • Henry Cooper Jun 6, 10:13 p.m.
    user avatar

    Tech built for convenience and not privacy or security.

    Do you have a google app on your phone you are logged into (if you can download from the app store then you are logged in)? Do you have your location on? Check the link below and see where you have been (google knows)!!!

    https://www.google.com/maps/timeline