Legal Technology

Amazon disputes report that Alexa called 911 during a domestic assault

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Sheriff’s deputies in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, were crediting digital assistant Alexa on Monday with initiating a emergency call during a domestic assault–but it couldn’t have happened, according to a later statement by device-maker Amazon.

Alexa doesn’t have the capability to call 911, according to a statement issued by Amazon. The Albuquerque Journal, BuzzFeed News and the New York Times have stories.

Dispatchers at the sheriff’s office reported that they heard a woman shouting “Alexa, call 911!” when they received a call on July 2. They arrived at the woman’s home, where they found her with swelling and bruises, and arrested her boyfriend, Eduardo Barros, after a six-hour standoff.

The woman said Barros had hit her with a gun, thrown her to the ground, and kicked her at least 10 times. Barros was charged with aggravated battery on a household member and false imprisonment, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

On Monday, police said in a statement that Alexa helped save the woman and her child from a violent situation. They speculated that Alexa called 911 when Barros asked the victim whether she had called the sheriff.

But Amazon spokeswoman Rachel Hass said Alexa has limited ability to make phone calls. “In order for a call to be made and answered, the receiving end needs to also have Alexa calling and messaging set up,” she told the Times in an email.

The iPhone’s digital assistant Siri, however, can call 911, according to the Times and BuzzFeed.

After Amazon’s statement, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department said Alexa was used, along with the home phone system, to call 911.

Glenn Platt, director of interactive media studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, told the Times that Amazon’s wireless Echo speaker, which is controlled by the Alexa digital assistant, is capable of activating calls from a phone’s contact list. The phone, rather than the Echo, could have made the call, provided that calling is enabled and the word “sheriff” is on the contact list, he said.

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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