Amazon’s Alexa Puts a Stop to CIA Rumor (Updated)
If you like conspiracy theories, this was a good one: Amazon’s virtual assistant that goes by the name Alexa could be connected to the Central Intelligence Agency.
This week, the theory gained so much traction that Amazon took steps to refute it.
If you missed it, the “Amazon works for the CIA” rumors took off when a woman uploaded a video in which she asks her Echo— a gadget that responds to questions when anyone says the so-called “wake word,” which is Alexa, about the agency.
The woman begins by asking, “Alexa, would you lie to me?” and then, “Alexa, what is the CIA?” In response, the device offers pretty straightforward answers.
But then the woman asks: “Alexa, are you connected to the CIA?” The device lights up as it does when it is about to answer, but then stays silent. She asks once more a little louder: “Alexa, are you connected to the CIA?” Again, no response.
The effect is a bit creepy, making it look like old Alexa has something to hide. This is especially concerning because the device normally provides a response to anything you ask it—even if, as is too often the case, her response is: “Sorry, I don’t know the answer to this.”
Needless to say, the video went viral since the Internet loves stuff like this, and the media published all sorts of silly headlines like: “Alexa gets super sketchy when you ask about the CIA.”
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Alas, Amazon (AMZN) ended the fun by updating its software. A company spokesperson has now confirmed Alexa’s silence was a “technical glitch.”
Now when you ask the device about the CIA, you get a clear denial.
“No, I’m not employed by them. I work for Amazon,” my Echo device told me when I asked, “Do you work for the CIA?” I received a similar response when I asked if Alexa was “connected to the CIA.”
While the whole episode is one of those silly Internet gags, it does call attention to the privacy risks of keeping a connected, always-on recording device in your house. The Alexa-CIA incident comes after a spate of news reports surrounding a murder investigation in which police sought to obtain Alexa recordings as evidence.
This story was updated at 1pm ET to add Amazon’s response.