Amazon Alexa's skills are geting ads, thanks to VoiceLabs

Nichole Vega
May 13, 2017

Amazon recently banned nearly all forms of advertising on their Alexa voice assistant platform, but VoiceLabs has revealed a new way to monetize Skills, called Sponsored Messages. They've got a direct line to a speaker in your home. Elise Oras contacted The Verge regarding this privacy matter.

The flaw was discovered by a user named Elise Oras who later went on to write a dedicated post on Medium, sharing her experience. A notification on your lock screen will tell you that you have a call in the Amazon Alexa app. They can also ask your Echo device, "Play my message" when you receive a new text or voice message (Alexa calling does not support voicemail) and listen to that message without your consent.

Amazon has quickly built a commanding lead on voice-enabled digital assistants, but the company's vision for bringing Alexa to connected devices as diverse as light switches, automobiles and household appliances is just getting underway. A superior AI means that more users will want to use Alexa. And it skims your entire contacts database to find this information; there's no way to limit it to a certain favorites list, for example.

However, Amazon remains the quickest when it comes to executing and developing products that consumers want and feel like they need. To maintain an edge over its competitors, the company launched free voice calling through the use of the Echo and Echo Dot speakers, or the Alexa app. Any malicious hacker can simply hack the device and gain control over the audio and video feed from the Echo Show. They can see and reach you just as easily. You can get the device in white and black colours. Your phone number is central to all of this, as it's tied to your Amazon account. The Verge has confirmed this in testing the new feature. "Simple things, like how customers ask for music, changes drastically between even the US and United Kingdom USA people will ask, 'hey play the latest single by Green Day.' In the United Kingdom, they'll say 'play that record'".

LG Electronics USA Vice President of Marketing David VanderWaal (L) and Amazon Vice President of Alexa, Echo and Appstore Mike George display the LG Smart InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator during a LG press event for CES 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 4, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What happens when you call?

Amazon will also release an updated Alexa Skills Set. It's possible to delete these, but there's no way to permanently stop receiving them from any individual. The secret code words will be, surprisingly enough, "Alexa, call Justin" or "Alexa, send Justin a message". Nor is there any way to hide the message content and view only a sender's name.

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