The Amazon Echo is an internet-connected device introduced by the online retailer in 2014 that lets homeowners play music, call up traffic reports, and activate lighting and heat controls — all by voice command.
It turns out that the Echo, through its Alexa personal, listens not only to whoever is at home, but occasionally responds to what it hears over the radio or on TV.
National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition aired a story earlier this month on its Listen Up segment about the $180 device and how it allowed owners to control a number of devices. But some listeners who already owned Echos and had them placed within earshot of the program reported unintended results, the website Quartz reported.
Listener Roy Hagar told host Rachel Martin in a followup story that during the original broadcast Alexa reset the thermostat in his house. Another listener, Jeff Finan, said that as soon as Alexa heard its name over the radio during the segment, it began playing an NPR news summary.
In fact, Quartz reported, the Echo can be activated by television commercials. “Now that there are Amazon Echo commercials on TV, they accidentally activate my mom’s Echo all the time,” Dan Wells said in a Tweet. “That’s a great story prompt.”
In December, Echo’s customer support staff admitted that the device had the “annoying habit” of playing Christmas music at the request of a commercial and said it was working to head off the problem. “Mine has gone off several times to this and we have brought it up to our developers,” a support staffer named Brandon said in another Tweet.
Amazon lists the device as a best seller in its lineup of home audio speakers. (Apparently it is so popular that it will be out of stock until March 29).
The web site advertises that the Echo can play music from a customer’s Spotify, Pandora, or other account, read audio books, give traffic and weather updates, fetch sports scores, and control lights, switches, and thermostats.
Amazon has since added two new models, the $130 Tap and the $90 Echo Tap.