2017 01: January

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Chris’ Challenge --->

Be Careful What You Ask For!:

There is a certain very large on-line retail marketing organisation that is willing to sell just about anything to you. No names, but it is up to you if you want to guess. They make hardware that’s all about easing the way to buying stuff from them. Their Echo digital assistant is a case in point. You can order anything from their website just by saying “Alexa, order me a . . .” That can be very convenient – or not.

Early this month a CBS affiliate in Dallas reported the story of six-year-old Brooke Neitzel who was talking with Alexa about dollhouses and cookies. One of the things she said was “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” Alexa got right on it and it wasn’t long before a four-pound can of Royal Dansk sugar cookies and a $160+ KidKraft Sparkle Mansion Dollhouse was delivered to Brooke’s home.

Then it got interesting.

A CW network affiliate station in San Diego picked up the story and reported it during a morning news show. Jim Patton, one of the anchors on the show, said “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa, order me a dollhouse’” and you know what happened next. That’s right, Echos all over the San Diego area ordered dollhouses.

This kind of thing happens because “me” doesn’t mean the same thing to you and Alexa. When you say “me”, you mean you; when Alexa hears “me”, Alexa hears your ... account because she can’t tell the difference between different voices. Brooke Neitzel’s voice, Jim Patton’s voice and your voice are all the same to Alexa and if any of you say “order me” within hearing range of your Echo whatever they say next is going to be charged to your account.

Alexa’s automatic ordering function is turned on by default. Of course it is. You can easily turn it off, however, if you don’t want your local newscasters ordering stuff from Amazon for you. A drop-down menu opens up from the upper left corner of the Alexa app. Select “Settings” from the menu and “Voice Purchasing” from the Settings menu. From there you can turn automatic ordering off or set it up so Alexa needs a pin number to complete an order.

Brooke Neitzel didn't specifically order the expensive Dansk cookies and KidKraft Sparkle Mansion Dollhouse but that's what ... sent. Of course they did. The company will refund anything ordered through Alexa by mistake but that’s not what happened in Brooke’s house. They ate the cookies and decided to donate the dollhouse to charity. The default setting for automatic ordering produced another win for the company! (I'm sure a default setting may also have been changed.)

This won’t be the last time we hear “Alexa ordered” stories because, with automatic ordering, the possibilities for shenanigans are endless. You’re smarter than Alexa, however, so you can make sure the next round of stories isn’t about you. Change the default settings.

[Ed: I didn't accidentally mention Amazon's name above, did I?]

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