Amazon recently enabled free voice calling for the Echo and Echo Dot, but it seems that the new feature for the smart speakers comes with a glaring privacy issue.
The Alexa Calling feature, which was launched alongside the announcement of the Echo Show, has also been enabled for the Alexa app.
Amazon Echo Calling Breaches User Privacy
The new Amazon Echo feature, which also allows free messages, uses an internet connection to make and receive calls by issuing voice commands to digital assistant Alexa. Whenever a call would come in, there will be a chime to alert users, and the outer ring of the Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot will turn green.
However, the feature also comes with a privacy concern, as first pointed out by marketing and events manager Elise Oras through a Medium post.
In her post, Oras narrated her excitement for the new feature because it basically transformed the Amazon Echo into a modern and much cooler version of traditional landline telephones.
However, upon importing her contacts, she found out that everyone was added to her contacts list, including people such as "crazy ex-boyfriends" whom she did not want to have a direct line into her home.
While the contacts that were given access to Oras through her Amazon Echo were not exactly threats, she pondered how victims of crime and violence such as the receivers of domestic abuse and bullying would be subjected to even more hate through the feature. Numbers that are blocked in smartphones will still connect to the Amazon Echo, as long as the caller has an Alexa app and the receiver's phone number.
"Not being able to block or delete the contact would open up another way for abuse to continue," Oras wrote.
How To Block Callers In Alexa Calling Feature
Oras found no way to delete people from her contacts list to prevent them from being able to call her Amazon Echo and, upon asking the Amazon Help account on Twitter, found that there is currently no way to block people from calling her. To delete a contact from the feature's contacts list, she would have to delete that contact from her smartphone, which is not a good idea, as she wants her ex-boyfriend's number on her contacts list. Of course, she wants to know if her ex-boyfriend is on the other end of the line so that she would know not to pick up.
Oras found that the only way to regain her privacy and prevent unwanted callers from her Amazon Echo is to delete the Alexa Calling feature from her smart speaker. Unfortunately, that is not as simple as enabling the feature.
Oras had to call Amazon Customer Service to request to disable Alexa Calling. After a representative asked for the reason for the request, the feature was disabled a few minutes later.
Amazon Working On A Fix
A spokesperson for Amazon stated that the company is already working to make it possible for users to block contacts in the Alexa Calling feature. The option will be rolled out over the coming weeks.
However, until then, Amazon Echo users who would rather have privacy than the convenience presented by Alexa Calling should not activate or disable the feature.