How can I stop Alexa from ordering things if it hears a voice on TV?

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According to The Register, lots of Amazon Echo devices were accidentally triggered by a presenter saying 'Alexa ordered me a dollhouse'.

Telly station CW-6 said the blunder happened during a Thursday morning news package about a Texan six-year-old who racked up big charges while talking to an Echo gadget in her home. According to her parents' Amazon account, their daughter said: "Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?" Next thing they knew, a $160 KidKraft Sparkle Mansion dollhouse and four pounds of sugar cookies arrived on their doorstep.

During that story's segment, a CW-6 news presenter remarked: "I love the little girl, saying 'Alexa ordered me a dollhouse'."

That, apparently, was enough to set off Alexa-powered Echo boxes around San Diego on their own shopping sprees. The California station admitted plenty of viewers complained that the TV broadcast caused their voice-controlled personal assistants to try to place orders for dollhouses on Amazon.

Voice purchasing seems to be enabled by default on the Echo, if you have 1-Click Purchasing set up.

How can I stop Alexa from ordering things if an advertisement or TV show says the words "Alexa, order ____"?

Will I need to disable voice purchasing altogether, or is there another way of making Alexa only respond to my orders?

Aurora0001

Posted 2017-01-08T13:43:13.900

Reputation: 11 277

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat (link obsolete).

anonymous2 2017-01-31T03:53:11.350

42I joined this SE site just to upvote this question. This is a real problem in the world of IoT and wearables. It's new tech and people aren't used to it. The risks are obvious :-)Mast 2017-01-08T17:25:22.370

27Given the current answer mentions "Alexa can't distinguish between different voices"... wouldn't it be wise to expand this question from ".. hears a voice on TV" to... "Stop Alexa from ordering without safeguards?". What's to stop a kids from "Alexa, Order me a PS4 and Final Fantasy" or "Alexa, Order me a new bike"...? I'm surprised this isn't an issue outside of watching TV...WernerCD 2017-01-08T18:22:14.900

Answers

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Interesting, even though I have 1-Click purchasing activated my voice purchasing options have been deactivated by default. I have to actually activate them to buy stuff.

Currently Alexa cannot discern between different voices.


Either way there is the option to enable an optional confirmation code that can be set to be required for voice purchasing. (Settings > Voice Purchasing)

(Optional) Require confirmation code
Enter a 4-digit code, and then select Save Changes. Before you complete a purchase, Alexa asks for your code. The code does not appear in your voice history.

Note: Make sure to create a code that you do not use for other accounts and services.

(Amazon Help)

Helmar

Posted 2017-01-08T13:43:13.900

Reputation: 5 936

2@Helmar Sure, I've done my fair bit of experimentation with voice recognition software and voice synthesis, and I understand the difficulty quite well (though some arguments are misguided IMO - I don't want other voices to trigger the wake). That doesn't change the fact that the very reason why the wake word is a good wake word in a typical context makes it entirely demolished by a TV broadcaster reporting on a mis-order :) And don't even get me started on the griefing potential. It's not like you need to change the wake word - you could append your own phonemes to the wake word instead.Luaan 2017-01-10T16:51:51.293

What if my parrot learns the confirmation code as well? :D

Bence Kaulics 2017-09-21T09:01:05.703

@BenceKaulics at that point the parrot clearly earned it :)Helmar 2017-09-21T14:20:33.757

22so, it's like the old Star Trek episodes then? "Alexa, order me a new dollhouse, authorization Tuvok Pi Alpha!"Michael 2017-01-09T16:05:58.813

6What I really want is to use different "call names", similar to the computer assistants in (e.g.) Niven's Mote in God's Eye / Gripping Hand novels. Somebody speaking a sentence to "Alexa" can't trigger anything if my assistant is named "Horvendile" and yours is named "Fyunch(click)". Very few voice assistants support renaming by default, but some allow third-party software to change the call name.Ti Strga 2017-01-09T17:08:28.287

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@TiStrga Alexa has actually three options: http://iot.stackexchange.com/q/524/78

Helmar 2017-01-09T17:10:13.897

2@Helmar True, but that doesn't really help much. Even if all three were equally used, you still get a third of the userbase vulnerable to any given option. You really need it custom custom.Luaan 2017-01-10T16:29:28.020

@Luaan the problem is that wake word recognition is done locally—for very good reasons—and picking good wake words is a science for itself. Check this blog out to get to know about wake word problems and why there are no really custom wake words.

Helmar 2017-01-10T16:36:15.347

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A simple but effective solution would be to move Alexa away from the TV. Unfortunately, this is not an option all of the time. If this because a consistent problem, you could turn down the volume of the TV, or mute the TV and turn on captions. Using headphones while watching would also work.

10 Replies

Posted 2017-01-08T13:43:13.900

Reputation: 311

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This solution may not work for everyone.

Currently Alexa supports three languages: English US, English UK and German.

So if you know German, then you could switch and use Alexa in German (or vice-versa). This way, it won't react to what it hears from TV. (Given you do not watch German programs.)

Gratis, it will probably prevent most young aged children ordering a dollhouse as well.

Bence Kaulics

Posted 2017-01-08T13:43:13.900

Reputation: 4 291

6Well, that would leave you with only the German skills. And a bilingual kid ordering stuff from overseas :DHelmar 2017-01-11T15:47:35.323