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UK lawmakers are concerned sex offenders are using Amazon’s Alexa to spy

Listening in.
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A serial sex offender admitted to using Alexa to spy on a victim. The case has raised concerns about the privacy risk of household smart devices.

Aaron Herschell, who identified as a trans woman named Alexis in prison, was first jailed in 2017 for attempted rape and again in 2021 for socializing with a minor. Last week, in a separate case at the Livingston Sheriff Court, he said that he spied on his victim by connecting his Amazon Alexa device to her so that he could remotely spy on her conversations.

Voice-assistants like Alexa should play a warning tone when someone else connects to the device remotely. However, the warning tone might go unnoticed if, for example, someone is in another room.

He pleaded guilty to behaving in a “threatening or abusive manner” and awaits sentencing later this month.

The case comes amid an inquiry by a select committee into the growing use and potential abuse of smart technology.

Chairman of the committee, Tory MP Julian Knight said: “The innocent little box sitting inconspicuously in the corner of the room would seem to offer the ultimate in convenience.

“However, there is always the danger it will have a more sinister side, with users potentially sacrificing privacy, put at risk of cyber-crime, or left open to uncovering harmful content online.

“This disturbing court case highlights the potential dangers in our own homes of this connected technology.”

Voice-assistants have an always-on microphone, meaning someone with remote access can listen to your conversation, even when the device is muted. The mute function only prevents the device from responding to the opening command word.

Commenting on the story, Amazon said: “Privacy and security are built into every device, feature and experience. Unfortunately there are rare occasions when some people go to devastating lengths to misuse technology.”

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