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Amazon Alexa 'cat food' ad sparks online ordering complaints

Amazon Echo cat food ad sparks online order complaints

The security of Amazon’s Echo assistant has again been called into question after complaints that TV adverts forced people’s own devices to place unwanted orders.

An investigation by the Advertsing Standards Authority (ASA) into an Amazon Echo Dot advert was launched to decide if the accidental orders were down to the company’s negligence.

The advert in question showed a montage of characters using different features on the voice-activated digital assistant.

One asks: “Alexa, re-order Purina cat food,” to which the Echo replies: “I’ve found Purina cat food. Would you like to buy it?”

The complaint to the ASA describes how the person’s own Echo Dot placed an order for Purina cat food upon hearing the advert on TV. The customer then had to manually cancel the order to avoid being charged for the product.

The unhappy customer argued that the advert was “socially irresponsible” and had breached BCAP codes for advertising practices.

This isn’t the first time that Alexa has been misbehaving under the influence of television.

Last year, numerous customers reported that their Echo devices were attempting to order a range of lewd products after being exposed to an episode of South Park.

The larger question here is, how safe are digital assistants? As more people sync the devices up to their shopping accounts and payment details, they’re becoming a prime target for criminals.

Hackers may be looking to manipulate these voice-activated devices with ‘dolphin attacks’: audio signals too high to be heard by human ears, but that are detected by assistants like Alexa.

The ASA investigation into Amazon found that ‘technology’ was in place on their Echo adverts to prevent any accidental interference with the devices in people’s homes.

However, they did confirm that the complaint was valid and that the offending order of Purina cat food was made after Alexa heard the ad.

Amazon stated that, in cases where accidental orders are made, customers must make an additional confirmation to finalize any purchases through Alexa. Although the complainant manually cancelled their order, the automatic process would have cancelled and refunded the order anyway.

The ASA was satisfied that the steps Amazon has in place to prevent orders of Purina are adequate, and decided to rule in their favor.

By:

Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.
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