US senators send questions to Amazon about its Echo device

In May 2018, a family in Portland, USA reported that their Amazon Echo smart speaker had recorded snippets of private conversations and sent them to a random person in their contact list. Amazon explained that the device had subsequently misinterpreted several pieces of the conversation and this is why it ended up behaving as reported. But the incident has sparked controversy over the privacy implications of Echo-like devices and the privacy-related policies of their manufacturers. In light of this case, two members of the US Senate – Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, who serve as chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law – sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asking for clarifications on how the Echo device functions (when and how frequently it sends data to Amazon servers, how long the recordings are stored, and how the recorded data is anonymised) and what actions the company is taking to protect the privacy of their users. The senators also ask Amazon to indicate the number of complaints it has received about Echo misinterpreting commands.