Customer complains after Amazon Echo orders cat food

It is the voice-activated device that it supposed to make it simple to play music, check the weather or order a takeaway.

But things weren’t quite so straightforward for one Amazon Echo owner – after an advert for the smart speaker triggered their own device and left them with an unwanted order for cat food.

The owner complained to the advertising regulator about the ‘socially irresponsible’ advert, which was shown on television screens on October 5.

The advert demonstrated various people using the Amazon Echo device – which is voiced by an ‘intelligent personal assistant’ known as Alexa.

An Amazon Echo owner complained after an advert for the smart speaker triggered their own device and left them with an unwanted order for cat food

An Amazon Echo owner complained after an advert for the smart speaker triggered their own device and left them with an unwanted order for cat food

An Amazon Echo owner complained after an advert for the smart speaker triggered their own device and left them with an unwanted order for cat food

At one point in the advert, a man’s voice says: ‘Alexa, re-order Purina cat food,’ to which the virtual assistant replied: ‘I’ve found Purina cat food. Would you like to buy it?’.

A viewer of the advert found the command, played through their TV speakers, triggered their own Amazon Echo Dot device to place an unwanted order for the cat food. They cancelled the order before it arrived.

The Advertising Standards Authority investigated but yesterday said it had cleared Amazon’s advert and found it had not breached their code.

The Echo works by constantly listening for the ‘wake word’ – either ‘Alexa’ or ‘Amazon’ by default – and then records your voice and transfers it to a processor for analysis so that it can fulfil requests or answer questions.

It can be used for a wide range of tasks, including ordering groceries or a takeaway online, giving a weather report, ordering an Uber taxi, announcing the latest football scores and playing music or podcasts.

At one point in the advert, a man's voice says: 'Alexa, re-order Purina cat food' (pictured)

At one point in the advert, a man's voice says: 'Alexa, re-order Purina cat food' (pictured)

At one point in the advert, a man’s voice says: ‘Alexa, re-order Purina cat food’ (pictured)

Bosses at the tech firm said there were measures in place to ‘prevent its ads from interacting with the devices of their customers’.

An Amazon spokesman said adverts are ‘digitally marked’ to prevent them triggering other Echo devices. If that technology fails, customers are still required to ‘confirm a purchase’ before it is ordered. If they fail to do so, then the order should be ‘automatically cancelled’.

Bosses at the ASA said: ‘In this instance, the complainant had cancelled the order themselves, but we understood that had they not done so, the order would nonetheless have been cancelled automatically.

‘Therefore we understood that it would not be possible for a purchase to be made without the account owner’s knowledge, even in instances where technology, intended to stop ads interacting with devices, had not been effective.

‘We concluded that the ad was not socially irresponsible and did not breach the Code.’

This is not the first time a command on the TV has caused an Amazon Echo to order a product.

A San Diego TV station sparked complaints after an on-air report about a girl who ordered a dollhouse via her parents’ Amazon Echo caused the device in viewers’ homes to also attempt to order the same item.

The six-year-old had asked her family’s new Amazon Echo – which includes a virtual assistant called Alexa – ‘can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?’ The device followed the command, ordering a £140 KidKraft Sparkle mansion dollhouse, as well as four pounds of sugar cookies.

But things were made worse when the phrase was repeated by TV anchor Jim Patton, who said: ‘I love the little girl saying, ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse’.’ Viewers were stunned when their own Amazon Echoes picked up the voice requests in the report and also ordered the child’s toy online.

The Echo, which currently costs £74.99 for the standard version or £39.99 for the smaller ‘Dot’ version, was one of the most popular Christmas presents last year.

 

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