Daily Archives: December 25, 2018

The Amazon Alexa Eavesdropping Nightmare Came True

Photo: Gizmodo
An Amazon user in Germany recently requested data about his personal activities and inadvertently gained access to 1,700 audio recordings of someone he didn’t know.

Germany’s c’t magazine reports that in August the Amazon user—exercising his rights under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation—requested his own data that Amazon has stored. Two months later, Amazon sent him a downloadable 100Mb zip file.

Some of the files reportedly related to his Amazon searches. But according to the report there were also hundreds of Wav files and a PDF cataloging transcripts of Alexa’s interpretations of voice commands. According to c’t magazine, this was peculiar to this user because he doesn’t own any Alexa devices and had never used the service. He also didn’t recognize the voices in the files.

The user reported the matter to Amazon and asked for information. He reportedly didn’t receive a response, but soon found that the link to the data was dead. However, he had already saved the files, and he shared his experience with c’t magazine out of concern that the person whose privacy had been compromised was not told about the mistake.

C’t magazine listened to many of the files and was able “to piece together a detailed picture of the customer concerned and his personal habits.” It found that he used Alexa in various places, has an Echo at home, and has a Fire device on his TV. They noticed that a woman was around at times. They listened to him in the shower.

We were able to navigate around a complete stranger’s private life without his knowledge, and the immoral, almost voyeuristic nature of what we were doing got our hair standing on end. The alarms, Spotify commands, and public transport inquiries included in the data revealed a lot about the victims’ personal habits, their jobs, and their taste in music. Using these files, it was fairly easy to identify the person involved and his female companion. Weather queries, first names, and even someone’s last name enabled us to quickly zero in on his circle of friends. Public data from Facebook and Twitter rounded out the picture.

Using the information they gathered from the recordings, the magazine contacted the victim of the data leak. He “was audibly shocked,” and confirmed it was him in the recordings and that the outlet had figured out the identity of his girlfriend. He said Amazon did not contact him.

Days later, both the victim and the receiver of the files were called by Amazon to discuss the incident. Both were reportedly called three days after c’t magazine contacted Amazon about the matter. An Amazon representative reportedly told them that one of their staff members had made a one-time error.

When asked for comment on the matter, Amazon sent Gizmodo the same statement it had shared with Reuters. “This was an unfortunate case of human error and an isolated incident. We have resolved the issue with the two customers involved and have taken steps to further improve our processes. We were also in touch on a precautionary basis with the relevant regulatory authorities.”

Amazon did not answer Gizmodo’s questions about how a human error led to this privacy infringement, or whether the company had initially contacted the victim to inform them their sensitive information was shared with a stranger.

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The recordings of the victim were from May. That same month, a Portland woman found her Echo had sent a recorded conversation between her and her husband to one of his employees. Amazon said the virtual assistant misinterpreted speech as an order to send the conversation to a contact.

via The Amazon Alexa Eavesdropping Nightmare Came True

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Retailers Are Fighting Online Shopping With … Phone Chargers

Ours is the age of online shopping. This year, Black Friday internet sales jumped 28 percent over last year as consumers spent $3.7 billion online. In fact, many buyers abandoned desktops and tablets for their online purchases, turning to their phones instead. The trend isn’t new: Retail brands have been adjusting their strategies for years now, ramping up their online presences and capabilities and adopting internet-influenced tactics like mobile in-store checkout and drive-by pickup in their brick-and-mortar stores.

As it’s becoming increasingly evident that on-site retailers will continue to struggle against the behemoth that is online shopping, they will do whatever they can to get (and keep) consumers inside their stores. One emerging method: providing phone chargers. The lockers that charge phones are showing up in more and more stores in hopes of luring consumers who can’t bear the thought of a dead battery. Last year, Target installed ChargeItSpot machines in nearly 200 locations across the United States. The machines charge shoppers’ phones for free while also securing them. A Target rep says ChargeItSpot is especially popular in urban areas, where people are getting to the stores on foot and thus unable to charge their phones while driving to the store. “Since we started offering these kiosks in 2017, guests have charged their phones hundreds of thousands of times,” says Target representative Jacqueline DeBuse.

via Retailers Are Fighting Online Shopping With … Phone Chargers – The Ringer

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Man Contracts Lung Infection After Smelling His Own Used Socks Daily

The 37-year-old from Zhangzhou, Fujian Province was admitted to the hospital after experiencing chest pains and coughing, the New Straits Times reported. And as it turns out, he was diagnosed with a severe pulmonary fungal infection.

Doctors say that the man, identified as Peng, contracted the infection after inhaling the spores of a fungus that can typically be found growing in footwear. At some point during the medical examination after doctors wondered how this infection was made possible, Peng admitted that he had a habit of smelling his own smelly socks after coming home from work every day (why exactly remains unclear), before ultimately throwing them into the laundry hamper.

X-rays then confirmed the presence of the infection. And doctors knew that this strange sock-smelling habit likely had something to do with why Peng suffered the infection in the first place.

via Man Contracts Lung Infection After Smelling His Own Used Socks Daily

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