After a man in Germany contacted Amazon to request a copy of any data the company had collected on him—his right under the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, Gizmodo notes—he was surprised to receive 1,700 audio files in response. Why? Because he doesn't use Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant that is used with its smart devices and known for listening in on people who use it. According to an article in Germany's c't magazine, the audio files (which were sent to the customer along with the data he likely expected—files relating to his Amazon searches) turned out to be recordings of a complete stranger, who used Alexa via his Amazon Echo, Fire box, smartphone, and smart appliances. The man also received a PDF transcript of the stranger's recorded voice commands.
The customer says when he contacted Amazon about receiving data from someone else, no one responded, but the link to the data was disabled. He had already downloaded a copy of it, and got in touch with c't. From the recordings, the magazine was able to locate the person whose data the man had received, and even identify the other man's girlfriend. The man was "shocked" to find out his data had been sent to a stranger, and noted that Amazon had not alerted him to the breach. Amazon finally got in touch with both men only after being contacted by c't. As the incident started making headlines, an Amazon spokesperson told Reuters, "This unfortunate case was the result of a human error and an isolated single case. We resolved the issue with the two customers involved and took measures to further optimize our processes. As a precautionary measure we contacted the relevant authorities." The incident is one of multiple reasons Gizmodo recently published a post entitled, "You Should Return the Amazon Echo You Bought and Get a Better Gift." (Alexa may play a role in a murder case.)