Amazon Echo tries to order dollhouses across San Diego

Generally, devices that listen to voice commands don’t cause too much trouble. The phrase used to activate them – be it “OK Google,” “Alexa” or “Siri” don’t come up enough in conversation to be a problem.

The exception to this is when the product’s very activation becomes the news. Then everyone is using the phrase, which can trigger a whole bunch more problems. Here’s a curious case in point via the Amazon Echo.

Earlier this month, a story did the rounds about a six-year-old girl accidentally ordering a $170 dollhouse (the Kidcraft Sparkle Mansion, since you ask) by chatting with Alexa. She used the phrase “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” The Amazon Echo being the Amazon Echo, the six-year-old’s wish was the virtual assistant’s command, and the luxury dollhouse – elevator, outdoor pool and BBQ included – was duly delivered. The family decided to give it away, seeing as it was Christmas and all. Everyone learned a heartwarming lesson, and that was the end of it.amazon_echo_review_2

Except it wasn’t. When San Diego’s XETV-TDT covered the story last Thursday, the local news anchor Jim Patton used the phrase “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse,’” and the whole cycle started over again. The Amazon Echos in people’s homes listening in to the news report quietly got to work and started ordering dollhouses “all over San Diego”.

This is probably a good time to do two things, Echo owners: first, change the wake word from Alexa to something else. That will stop pesky news anchors from ordering strange items for your home (unless you enjoy the lottery of finding what Amazon will send you next). To do this, use the Alexa app: go to Settings and find “Wake word”.

Second, it’s probably time to set up a PIN to prevent orders going straight through from the Amazon Echo. Simply navigate to the voice-purchasing section of Alexa and add a four-digit number to the “Require confirmation code” section. You can also turn off voice purchases altogether.

This isn’t the first time TVs and voice commands have caused problems. In 2014, Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul started turning people’s Xbox One consoles on by using the phrase “Xbox On” on an advert. One prankster even managed to get other gamers turning off their Xbox One consoles mid-game by adopting the gamertag “Xbox Turn Off”, and deliberately aggravating them until they said it out loud.

And yes, I did have to be careful to cover Amazon Echo’s ears while I was watching the news report, since you ask. No dollhouses coming my way. I hope.

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