Alexa Calling Has a Major Privacy Flaw
Like most Amazon Echo users, I was excited to hear about Alexa Calling, Echo’s latest feature. I read many articles about the new feature and couldn’t wait to test it. I was particularly excited for the feeling of a “home phone” with modern features (I am a child of the 90’s, when having your own phone line was the coolest), and how I could quickly connect to friends and family like they are in the next room.
So I updated the Amazon Alexa app, clicked yes when it asked if it could import my contacts (like every other app ever). Now, what I expected to happen (and what every other app ever does), is a list of contacts pops up and you pick and choose who to add. A quick safety or privacy check so you’re not letting just anyone connect with you.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, every contact that also has the Alexa app is now in my Alexa Calling contacts. Among my contacts were old landlords, many co-workers, random vendor account managers, city councilmen, and of course, crazy ex-boyfriends. And each one now has a direct line into my home.
OK, no big deal. I’ll just hover and delete. Nope, that didn’t work. OK, I’ll swipe to delete? Nope. I’ll look in settings to delete. No, that didn’t work either.
Dumbfounded, I Tweet at Amazon and ask for help.
Simple request, right? I was shocked by the response.
First, that’s crazy. I then asked Amazon how to delete a contact from Alexa Calling. Turns out you would have to delete that person from your phone (which you probably want some of those contacts in your phone, and maybe you have your crazy ex listed under “do not answer”).
But, OK, surely I can just disable Alexa Calling until Amazon figures out privacy settings, right? But I can’t find it in any setting, I delete the app, but when I reinstall all the contacts are still there.
Again, dumbfounded, I Tweet at Amazon.
What, I have to call you to disable Alexa Calling (and oddly enough, you cannot make this call through Alexa). Well, the link they gave me to contact support is here, which just takes you to the contact us page on your Amazon account.
I call Amazon Customer Service (and press 1 to prove I’m a human, and then 1 again to speak to an associate) and request to disable Alexa Calling. Amazon rep Kevin asks me why I would like to disable, and which device to disable. I tell him both my Dot and my Echo and because it has a huge privacy flaw.
A few minutes later, the option was disabled. I opened the app and yes, my contacts were gone.
Thankfully, the only contacts that had access to me were probably not really a threat. But I imagine victims of domestic violence, kids that are being bullied, and other victims of violence or crime may have their abuser’s number in their phone. Not being able to block or delete the contact would open up another way for abuse to continue.
Also, what will advertisers do with this new medium to contact prospects? Will I start receiving messages from salespeople, vendors, and other advertisers that I happened to store in my phone (so I don’t pick up their call)?
I love the idea of Alexa Calling — especially when I’m traveling and want to send my fiance a quick good morning message — but until Amazon fixes this major privacy flaw, I will not be using this new feature.