In what sounds like a Black Mirror festive episode, parents have been accidentally ordering gifts simply by chatting about them in front of their Alexa devices.
A cyber security expert has now warned parents of how virtual assistant devices such as the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can make orders online without your knowledge or consent.
So, unless you want your house to look like Santa’s storehouse in the run up to the big day, it’s wise to be careful when making present purchasing plans.
Oh, and it’s probably an idea to avoid discussing anything that you definitely do not want…
As reported by The Sun, Matt Horan from C3IA Solutions has cautioned:
With Christmas approaching I can foresee many people answering doors to delivery drivers with packages that the person knows nothing about – and which their ‘home helper’ has ordered for them.
Last year these virtual assistants were enormously popular Christmas presents and this year they might be ordering the families’ presents for them.
Mr Horan continued:
The most sensible [approach] is to disable the voice purchasing element of the device, or at least set up a passcode.
And of course they can be turned off when you are having detailed discussions about potential items you might want.
Fortunately, if you do find yourself in this awkward position, you don’t just have to like it and lump it. Amazon will allow you to return any accidental presents, completely free of charge.
Virtual helpers have made life easier in plenty of ways for busy modern families; allowing them to manage to-do and shopping lists, answering questions, and even ordering anything from pizzas to Ubers.
But it’s always odd when you remember how a little robot is listening and remembering all your private conversations. Particularly when you remember her weird ‘laughing like a demonic child’ phase.
Back in May 2018, co-director of the University of Washington’s tech policy lab, Professor Ryan Calo, spoke with the New York Post about the unease some people felt about virtual helpers after a number of weird glitches.
According to Professor Calo:
What makes it particularly unfortunate is the sense that Amazon Echo users will have that there’s any prospect that what they say in their private home might end up outside the home,
We feel less reassured about the control we assert over it than we once did. It’s the feeling you have to watch what you say in front of a device that’s supposed to make your life better.
"There's a good chance I get murdered tonight," one Twitter user wrote after his Alexa let out an unprovoked, eerie laugh. Amazon says it is working on fixing the inexplicable cackles, but people are still disturbed. pic.twitter.com/E66xUxhDQf
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 8, 2018
It’s weirdly sweet how Alexa is so overly enthusiastic about the upcoming Christmas festivities, and of course that she is so eager to help out, but it’s also admittedly a little creepy that she’s listening so intently.
So if you have an Amazon Alexa in your living room, maybe it’s best to keep your voices down in the weeks to come…
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.