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Amazon Alexa user asked for his personal recordings, got someone else's

He requested his data under a European law, but got 1,700 recordings of a stranger. Amazon says it was human error.

Gordon Gottsegen CNET contributor
Gordon Gottsegen is a tech writer who has experience working at publications like Wired. He loves testing out new gadgets and complaining about them. He is the ghost of all failed Kickstarters.
Gordon Gottsegen

Amazon unveiled several new Alexa-powered devices this year.

Ry Crist/CNET

Under Europe's GDPR law, you can request personal data from tech companies to see what information they've gathered on you. So when an Alexa user asked Amazon for his info, he thought he'd get recordings from his Alexa device.

Not quite.

Instead, the man (who remains unnamed) got 1,700 recordings of a stranger, from a different Alexa gadget.

The story was picked up by German magazine c't and later confirmed by Amazon.

"This was an unfortunate case of human error and an isolated incident." Amazon told CNET. The company said it's reached out to the relevant regulatory officials "on a precautionary basis" and that it's contacted the two customers and resolved the issue with them.

Still, the accidentally shared audio files reportedly included potentially sensitive information from the stranger, including at-home conversations with a female companion.

Amazon sold tens of millions of its Alexa-equipped Echo devices in 2018, and the number of people using Alexa every day has doubled. So the voice assistant has a strong foothold in many households and may have access to a lot of personal recordings.

Amazon said, however, that it's "taken steps to further improve" its processes for dealing with data requests.

Alexa, please try to be discreet.

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