Sure, Apple’s Siri isn’t quite as powerful as Amazon’s Alexa when it comes to certain features, but at least Siri has never encouraged a child to touch a penny to the prongs of a plug connected to a wall outlet. (At least as far as we know.)
Amazon Echos are useful devices found in millions of homes, providing access to knowledge, music, video (on some models), control over smart devices. However, they are not perfect, as an Alexa device recently encouraged a ten-year-old to participate in the “penny challenge,” where you use a penny to touch the prongs of a plug connected to a wall outlet. The device pulled the information about the dangerous and deadly “challenge” from the internet.
The child’s parent explained on Twitter:
We were doing some physical challenges, like laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a Phy Ed teacher on YouTube earlier. Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one.
Alexa device replied in response to the child’s query “tell me a challenge to do”:
Here’s something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow.com: The challenge is simple: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.
The information was not pulled from a website encouraging the challenge that spread around social media last year, but from a page warning about the dangerous challenge.
While we’re certain that Alexa didn’t reference the challenge out of malice, this highlights how word recognition searches such as this can be dangerous and underlines the need for human oversight, especially for material that is aimed at youngsters.
In a statement to the BBC, Amazon said it has made a change to prevent Alexa from recommending these activities.