Amazon says it has fixed bug causing Alexa devices to randomly laugh

8 Mar 2018

Amazon Echo device. Image: Charles Brutlag/Shutterstock

Many Alexa owners reported ‘creepy’ laughter coming from their devices in recent weeks.

Amazon’s Alexa voice service is a popular smart home option for many households. Recently, though, users have been reporting strange laughing noises coming from their voice-based digital assistants – seemingly at random.

Many owners have shared their ominous experiences on social media, with one user saying: “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.” The reports had been circulating for around a week.

Alexa seemed to begin laughing without being prompted to ‘wake up’ and many users unplugged their devices after the odd experience.

On Wednesday (7 March), Amazon confirmed it was aware of the laughter occurring in rare circumstances. According to the company, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh’, which can trigger a giggle from the device. Amazon has deployed a software update to fix the problem. It is changing the phrase to trigger laughter to ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’, which is “less likely to have false positives”, according to an Amazon spokesperson.

Alexa’s response to the new command will also include the line, ‘Sure, I can laugh’ prior to any actual laughter beginning whereas before, the laughter would just begin immediately.

This is not the first time a bug has affected Amazon’s home devices. Last year, researchers claimed that the Echo could be hacked by cyber-criminals, allowing them to eavesdrop on microphone recordings stored within it.

Researcher Mark Barnes detailed a technique in August of 2017 that could be used by anyone to install malware on an Amazon Echo, which could then turn the device into a ‘wiretap’.

Following a stream of reports about the security flaws, Amazon fixed the problems by removing the external connection that allows access to its SD card. However, the update does not fix the older version of the Echo device as the problem is in the physical connection exposed by its hardware.

Amazon Echo device. Image: Charles Brutlag/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects