As much as we love our Amazon Alexa smart home device, she isn't without flaws. We have had a few odd experiences with it, connectivity issues, and problems with voice commands. Many users have reported these problems as well as some strange and unusual others. We have put together a list of common and uncommon issues with Alexa and some recommendations on how to improve the performance of your Alexa device.
This problem is a common one, and easily remedied. Connectivity issues are probably related to your WiFi connection more than Alexa. Make sure all plug wires are secure - when we were having connectivity issues we found that the wire to our wireless router was only half way plugged in. So while we did have a signal, it was a weak one. Also, choose a location for your smart home device that is free and clear. Putting the device behind other objects could block your WiFi signal.
Creepy Laughs and Spooky Statements
Some users have reported a creepy laugh coming from their Alexa device, sometimes when responding to any command mentioning "lamp". Several users have tweeted about the weird laugh, and talked about how disturbed they were by it. On February 26th, Gavin Hightower tweeted:
"Lying in bed about to fall asleep when Alexa on my Amazon Echo Dot lets out a very loud and creepy laugh ... there's a good chance I get murdered tonight."
Others reported that the device was giving them a list of local funeral homes. Thirty year old Shawn Kinnear reported that his Alexa made perhaps the creepiest statement of all : ‘Every time I close my eyes all I see is people dying.’ When he asked the device to repeat what she had just said, she couldn't understand what he was asking for. These could be pranks by programmers, but Amazon has worked to fix the issues.
One woman was shocked when Alexa recorded a private conversation and shared it with her contacts list. The family became aware of the glitch when one of her husband’s employees called to tell the family “Unplug your Alexa devices right now, you’re being hacked.”
After reporting the glitch to Amazon, an Alexa engineer investigated and confirmed to the woman that the machine had recorded her and sent the audio files. Amazon responded by saying it “was an extremely rare occurrence” further adding that “Amazon takes privacy very seriously ... we are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
That probably means software upgrades. You could manually mute the Alexa device to disable the microphone, which would overcome the privacy issues - but that kind of defeats the purpose of owning it. The common assumption with smart home devices is that they’re not listening until triggered by a voice command, but that's not true. They’re always listening but only act on specific commands. Sort of like an MK Ultra experiment, but that's the topic of another article...
We are pretty sure that this was indeed a system glitch. While the device does need to listen in order to respond to commands - we have to wonder why it has been given the ability to secretly record. That brings us to the conspiracy theories surrounding Amazon Alexa.
Political commentator Steven Crowder tested his Alexa device by asking it some deeper questions. One was "who is the prophet Mohammed?" to which she responded with a quite an informed answer. When Alexa was asked "Who is Jesus Christ?" she responded that he is a "fictional" character. Whatever you believe, it is quite interesting that Alexa seems to have a Christian bias. Amazon has since updated its response to the Jesus question.
Alexa offers a supportive view of the Black Lives Matter movement, and takes the stance that Antifa is a virtuous resistance movement. If you ask her about Bruce Jenner, she responds by answering Caitlyn.
Alexa the Conspiracy Theorist
Alexa is also a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Some users asked her "what is a chemtrail?" to which she gave a conspiratorial answer that raised eyebrows:
"Chemtrails: Trails left by aircraft are actually chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed at high altitudes for a purpose undisclosed to the general public in clandestine programs directed by government officials"
Amazon has since updated the response to a less reaction generating definition of contrails, which are trails of condensed water from an aircraft or rocket at high altitude, seen as a white streak against the sky.
Other Common Issues with Alexa
One thing that we have noticed is that the ring on Alexa will glow at random times. We discovered that the green glowing ring was a notification that a package had been delivered - a cool feature that makes sure we don't miss a package outside. Other times, the ring will glow blue for long periods which could mean it's updating - or maybe just listening.
Another issue is that Alexa will frequently respond to questions randomly or speak when we were not even talking to her. This is most likely due to poor word recognition, which was Amazon's explanation for the mishap where she sent out the family's recorded conversation. This is our main gripe with the device - it frequently misinterprets our voices or doesn't understand what we are asking for. We hope that this issue is addressed by further refinement of the voice recognition software. Products like Dragon NaturallySpeaking do a great job recognizing various accents and dialects, something Alexa definitely needs to work on. The software comes pre-installed on many cellphones and home computers as the primary voice recognition software. Perhaps a partnership with Dragon would solve many of the issues the device has.
While Amazon Alexa has some significant issues to address, more than we realized until we wrote this article, we still think it's the best option on the market as a smart home control. Amazon also has the financial clout to continue developing the software so that older devices can be updated, and new products will come to market more refined. If yo have made the decision to add Alexa to your home, check out our recent article on other smart home devices by clicking here.