An Amazon Echo user in Germany tried to retrieve recordings of himself that the device had made. Instead, he ended up with 1,700 recordings of a total stranger, including private conversations that had taken place in that stranger's home. The company claims that the data breach was caused by human error and not a glitch.
Under European law, tech companies are required to hand over to users on request any data that they may have gathered on that particular user. The German magazine c't reported that a man in Germany had asked his Echo device for this information, in order to see what Amazon had gathered about him. As per protocol, the company sent him a link to a collection of nearly two thousand audio files
Except, none of the files had anything to do with him.
The man said that the files he was sent included recordings of a man and a woman talking to each other. The files had enough information for the German magazine to track down and contact this other man, and let him know what had happened.
After being notified of the issue, Amazon has since deleted the files it sent to the German man, but not before he downloaded them onto his own computer.
A representative from Amazon told CNET that "[t]his was an unfortunate case of human error and an isolated incident" and that it had "taken steps to further improve" its system regarding these requests.
The company also told Reuters that it had contacted "the relevant authorities" as a "precautionary measures."
Amazon claimed that it had sold tens of millions of Echo devices, with its popular Alexa virtual assistant, in 2018 alone. Roughly 50 million U.S. homes have some sort of smart speaker device, according to a report by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.