Your Echo Dot is Listening—And Making Purchases On Your Behalf

December 01, 2017

Technology is getting to the point where automated assistants are everywhere. With just a few words you can play music, call the cops, or, as some parents have recently discovered, order absolutely anything off of Amazon.

The problem with these virtual assistants? They don’t necessarily understand the difference between a 6-year-old and an adult. Or between a voice on the radio and a real human voice.

Brooke Neitzel, a 6-year-old girl in Dallas, Texas, was having a conversation one day with her family’s Echo Dot about the playhouse that she wanted. Alexa, the virtual assistant for Echo Dots, ordered exactly what she wanted.

Three days later, her family found a $160 dollhouse and four pounds of cookies on their doorstep. Brooke was, of course, overjoyed. Her parents, though, were less than thrilled.

According to the Echo Dot app, Brooke was talking to the assistant about a dollhouse. She said, “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?”

Alexa took Brooke’s request seriously and got her a dollhouse. When Alexa confirmed the order, Brooke responded saying, “I love you so much!”

The Neitzel family decided to use that circumstance about the importance of sharing. Instead of returning the dollhouse, they agreed as a family to donate it. According to Brooke’s mother, “It’s Christmas time. Let’s give it to someone who needs it. [Brooke] agreed and we are narrowing down the choices of who she would like to give it to.”

This isn’t the only story of Alexa doing something surprising. NPR actually did a story on the personal assistant Alexa. Apparently, while the story was broadcasting, many Alexa speakers activated and did some strange things, like turn up the thermostat and start playing other NPR broadcasts.

One podcast decided to test this out. On an episode of “Dear Hank and John,” Hank Green and John Green asked Alexa to order copies of John Green’s latest book from Amazon. They also asked Alexa to start playing the Christmas album from “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Their test was successful, as many listeners shared that their devices had responded to the request by ordering the book and playing the Christmas album.

It’s a little terrifying to know that your virtual assistant can do so much without you knowing it. But the good news is that there is a failsafe built into the devices. You can change the settings so that you have to enter a code to confirm any credit card changes.

Digital assistants like this can be a great gift for your family members. Check out this list for more ideas.

Next: 2017 “Guy” Gift GuideNov 27, 2017