Amazon explains why Alexa recorded a couple's conversation and sent it to somebody else

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Amazon says its Echo device kept asking for commands and then kept mishearing them.
Amazon says its Echo device kept asking for commands and then kept mishearing them. Credit: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg

One Amazon Alexa mystery has been solved, although it poses some new questions about the company's Echo devices.

The question for much of Thursday was why a couple's Echo recorded one of their conversations and sent it to someone in their address book without their knowledge.

Eventually an Amazon spokesman said the Echo had misunderstood what it was hearing in a surprising sequence:

"Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like 'Alexa.' Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a 'send message' request. At which point, Alexa said out loud 'To whom?' At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, '[contact name], right?' Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ' right.' As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely."

The couple in Portland, Ore., said they found out about the accidental spying after they received a call from a colleague of the husband, who told them to disconnect their Amazon Echo right away; the colleague had received an audio file of the couple having a discussion inside their home.

The couple freaked out, needless to say, and notified the media for good measure. The incident was first reported by KIRO-TV in Seattle.

The device isn't supposed to even record until a person issues the voice command, "Alexa," but anyone who owns an Echo knows that the devices can sometimes activate on their own after mistaking what they hear.

The couple, who were not identified by last name in media reports, said that an Amazon representative apologized profusely over the phone when contacted.

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