Amazon's Alexa told a child to do potentially lethal 'challenge'

7 months ago 17

The child's parent Kristin Livdahl posted a screenshot of their Alexa activity history on her Twitter handle

Washington: Amazon's Alexa told a 10-year-old child to touch a penny to the exposed prongs of a phone charger plugged into the wall.

As per The Verge, the device seemingly pulled the idea for the challenge from an article describing it as dangerous, citing news reports about an alleged challenge trending on TikTok.

The child's parent Kristin Livdahl posted a screenshot of their Alexa activity history on her Twitter handle.

According to the screenshot, the Echo responded to "tell me a challenge to do" with "Here's something I found on the web. According to The challenge is simple: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs."

In a statement to a leading media publication, Amazon confirmed Alexa's behaviour, saying, "As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it."

Amazon isn't the only company to run into issues trying to parse the web for content.

In October, a user reported that Google displayed potentially dangerous advice in one of its featured snippets if you Googled "had a seizure now what" -- the info it showed was from the section of a webpage describing what not to do when someone was having a seizure.

Users have reported other similar problems, though, including one user who said Google gave results for orthostatic hypotension when searching for orthostatic hypertension, and another who posted a screenshot of Google displaying terrible advice for consoling someone who's grieving.

In the case of Alexa, an algorithm picked out the descriptive part of a warning and amplified it without the original context. While the parent was there to immediately intervene, it's easy to imagine a situation where that isn't the case or where the answer shared by Alexa isn't so obviously dangerous.

Livdahl tweeted that she used the opportunity to "go through internet safety and not trusting things you read without research and verification" with her child.

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