News report triggers Alexa to make unauthorized purchases

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Did you read our story last week about the little girl in Texas who used Alexa to order a dollhouse and cookies? She says the family’s Echo Dot mistook a conversation for an order request.

The unusual story made national news and was featured on local stations as well. When one anchor mentioned the “wake word,” it caused a bit of an inconvenience for their viewers.

Alexa devices are always listening but the wake word activates them so they are ready to follow commands. When CW6 News San Diego reported the story, news anchor Jim Patton said the wake word. Currently, Amazon devices will respond to “Alexa,” “Echo,” or “Amazon.”

“I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.'”

Amazon devices in the viewers’ homes heard the command through the TV and ordered a dollhouse. Patton told The Verge that several viewers reported the incident to the station.

After the incident with the 6-year-old in Texas made headlines, Amazon responded by explaining that it’s difficult to order items by accident. Alexa will ask you to confirm your order so if the order is a mistake then you just say no. You can also turn off the “Purchase by Voice” function, require a confirmation code to complete orders, and/or disable the “1-Click” payment setting.

Maybe some day the technology will evolve to only respond to the owner’s voice. Until then, the Alexa support section of Amazon’s website gives instructions for changing the wake word.

To change your wake word

  • Open the Alexa app and go into the “Settings” section.
  • Select the device you want to change and then scroll down and select “Wake Word.”
  • Select a new word from the drop down menu and hit “Save.” The device’s light ring will flash orange.

Another improvement in the future could be adding a larger variety of wake words or allowing the owners to choose their own.

More about Alexa

This Amazon Echo lookalike has better speakers

Web-connected devices spark controversy over your rights to privacy

Amazon Echo vs. Google Home comparison chart

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