Amazon Echo speakers obey TV's command to buy a dollhouse

Alexa doesn't discriminate. If Amazon's smart speaker hears its name, it will respond to the voice talking to it—even when that person isn't really there.

One of the unintended results of our growing world of voice-activated devices and assistants is that they can be inadvertently set to a task. We first caught a glimpse of that problem two and a half years ago when an Xbox One ad woke Xbox consoles across the globe. More recently, Amazon’s Alexa ended up inadvertently obeying a command from broadcast TV to make a purchase on Amazon—or at least that’s what some Echo owners claim.

It all started a few days ago when a 6-year-old girl in Texas asked Alexa to “play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse.” Alexa quickly complied with the request and ordered the child a dollhouse from Amazon, as well as four pounds of cookies, according to CBS DFW.

That story was funny enough to land on the morning show for the local CW station, CW6, in San Diego. Right at the end of the morning segment anchor Jim Patton said, “I loved the little girl’s take on it ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’” Oops. A later news broadcast on the CW6 said Echo devices all over the San Diego area were trying to order dollhouses on Amazon when they picked up Patton’s comment. It’s not clear if any of those purchases actually went through.

Why this matters: Inadvertent purchases via digital assistant is really just a new version of an old problem. For as long as there’s been an App Store children have been buying digital goods inside mobile games racking hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of dollars in the process. To ease the transition to an Alexa-powered world, Amazon says inadvertent purchases via Alexa can always be returned, and you can also require a customized four-digit PIN for authorizing purchases.

Replacing Alexa

Anyone who wants to avoid a news program or TV show like Mr. Robot from setting off Alexa can change the device’s wake word. You can’t create a custom wake word, but Amazon offers a few pre-set choices. Open the Alexa app on your mobile device and go to Settings > [device name] > Wake Word. There you’ll be able to choose Amazon or Echo instead of Alexa.

[via The Verge]

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags amazon.com

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Paul

TechHive (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?