Amazon Alexa’s settings need tweaking to protect children from its unfiltered results. (Source: Amazon)

Errors by Amazon Algorithms Raise Safety Concerns for Children Using App

Are you on Team Alexa? Do you use Echo? Or are you more Team Siri? Whichever AI-driven voice-activated digital assistant you use may need its settings checked and adjusted. A story from this week shows that the fine print in your contract about its foibles should instead be a warning label.

It’s no wonder a lot of people have been reluctant to allow digital assistants into their homes or office. If privacy concerns weren’t enough to persuade them against using Amazon’s voice assistant, perhaps its ability to spread harmful, deadly, information could make them pull the plug on Alexa.

One day recently, a 10-year-old girl asked Alexa for a challenge. The algorithm was supposed to give the girl something fun and interesting to do for a few minutes. Instead of telling the girl to do a math problem or find a particular word and use it in a sentence, here is what Alexa told the girl:

“The challenge is simple,” said Alexa. “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”

These instructions could have seriously hurt the 10-year-old if she not known better or if her parent hadn’t been around. That’s because (as you might have learned as a child), inserting metals that are good conductors into a socket can cause electric shocks or start fires.

Can you imagine this happening? And how the hell did this happen? After a Tweet from the girl’s mother went public, Amazon reached out to her.

The retail giant eventually fixed the issue, telling Indy100:

“Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it.”

How an old Internet Challenge Resurfaced

The so-called “Outlet Challenge” dared easily-influenced teens to insert a coin into a wall outlet. As is so often the case with these brain-dead internet challenges, at least a few people followed the dangerous instructions. It got to a point where the Massachusetts police sent out a warning after two teenagers, who faced arson charges, scorched outlets at their high school.
The mother found out she could set her Echo on the “kids” setting so she has more control over the satanic speaker. Clearly, Amazon’s algorithms aren’t doing a good enough job of vetting the information they grab from various online sources. And that isn’t the case with other personal assistants.

The article continues with the author Phillip Tracy testing his own Alexa by asking for a challenge. He included the answers Alexa gave in the piece.