Amazon Alexa web search results told child to play with power outlet

Amazon’s Alexa digital voice assistant has had its fair share of valid criticism over the years, particularly when it comes to how voice clips are recorded and stored. However, Alexa is now being criticized for a completely different issue: she told a young child to play with a wall outlet (sort of).

Much like Google Assistant, Bixby, and pretty much every other digital assistant, Alexa can give you internet search results when it doesn’t have its own answer to a certain question – asking “what’s the weather like?” will give an Alexa response, but hyper-specific prompts like “what processor does the new MacBook Pro use?” will usually require Alexa to search the web. Answers are as useful as search results, and in this case, the results weren’t too helpful.

Kristin Livdahl on Twitter posted a screenshot (Going through Gizmodo) from the Alexa app on Sunday, which shows that when her 10-year-old asked Alexa “Tell me a challenge for me”, Alexa replied “Here’s something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow. com: The challenge is simple: plug a phone charger halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed pins.

Screenshot of the Alexa app (Credit: Kristin Livdahl)

Alexa was reading a January 2020 news article that described a TikTok challenge, in which people were encouraged to insert pennies into wall sockets. It’s unclear why Alexa chose this article as the top result – Amazon’s virtual assistant reportedly uses Bing for web searches, and Bing’s search for this question puts other articles and videos in the top results .

amazon said Indy100 in a statement, “Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to deliver accurate, relevant and useful information to customers. As soon as we became aware of this error, we took prompt action to correct it. Sure enough, asking Alexa “tell me a challenge to do” now responds with a generic error message.

Even though the search results didn’t come directly from Amazon, the issue highlights children’s increasing difficulty using digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. Alexa has an optional mode specifically for kids, but it still contains a lot of third-party content that Amazon might not validate, such as third-party skills and question results.

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