News anchor sets off Alexa devices around San Diego ordering unwanted dollhouses

SAN DIEGO – Shh! you may want to turn down your television set because Alexa the internet-connected home assistant device may be listening.

The Amazon Echo system which does everything from getting your weather report to ordering more laundry detergent can also do some things you don’t want it to.

When it comes to answering those tough questions or getting that extra help around the house, Alexa, the voice service that powers Amazon Echo is just a voice-command away.

bestbuyMeyali Sanchez helps sell the system at Best Buy and even uses it at home.

“She is kind of like my little right hand. So for example if we’re cooking we like to try new recipes, once a week we like to try something new,” she said.

Alexa adapts to speech patterns and vocabulary.  She can control your music and video library, set an alarm, control the thermostat, and even turn off the lights and its keeping local retail stores busy.

The device is convenient, but it’s also raising concerns over security and privacy.

“These devices don’t recognize your specific voice and so then we have the situations where you have a guest staying or you have a child who is talking and accidentally order something because the device isn’t aware that it’s a child versus a parent,” said Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher for ESET North America.

Which is exactly what happened today during CW6 in the morning when Jim Patton and Lynda Martin were talking about a child who accidentally bought a dollhouse and four pounds of cookies

“I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse,’” said Patton.

As soon as Patton said that, viewers all over San Diego started complaining their echo devices had tried to order doll houses.  It’s a common problem experts say can be avoided.

img_1007“All of these devices which record the internet of things will have some sort of website control, some sort of setting, sometimes the setting is on the device that is communicating. So you need to go into these settings and look at what they are, and what you can change,” said Cobb.

Cobb says the Federal Trade Commission is already looking into voice-command devices and toys to make sure the technology is safe and secure.  For now, he recommends do your research to keep your personal information controlled and protected.

“Down the road the technology will be more sophisticated where it will be able to identify certain individuals and register people can access it,” he said.

Amazon says shopping settings can be managed via its Alexa app, including turning off voice purchasing and creating a confirmation code before any order.

The company also says any “accidental” physical orders can be returned for free.

Have questions or a story idea for CW6’s Carlos Correa? Stay connected with him on twitter: @carloscorrea2 or on facebook: carlos correa

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