Tech News : Shocking Suggestion From Alexa

Published on January 5, 2022

A mother took to Twitter to complain that Alexa had suggested to her 10-year-old daughter that she play a game that involves touching the prongs of a live plug with a penny!

Playing

The mother, Kristin Livdahl (of Minnesota, USA), was reported to have been doing physical challenges indoors on Boxing Day with her 10-year-old daughter because of inclement weather outside, when her daughter asked Alexa, via the Amazon Echo, for another challenge.

The Penny Challenge

To her mum Kristin’s horror, as outlined in her Tweet, Alexa’s suggestion, which it had “found on the web”, was something called the “penny challenge” which is reported to have been circulating on TikTok and other social media platforms last year. 

According to Kristin Livdahl’s tweet, the suggestion offered by Alexa was: “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.”

Thankfully, as Livdahl reported “I was right there and yelled, ‘No, Alexa, no!’ like it was a dog. My daughter says she is too smart to do something like that anyway.”

Extremely Dangerous

As reported by USA Today, comments from a Fire Marshal about a case where two high school students had tried the challenge (reported in The Providence Journal) highlighted how the challenge causes “sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire.” 

Metals conduct electricity and, therefore, touching a live metal plug prong with another metal object held in the hand can result in serious physical harm such as burns, electric shock and potentially death.

Amazon Says Sorry

Amazon is reported to have apologised and offered help to Livdahl and stated that it had fixed the problem as soon as it became aware of it. Amazon has also stated that it will continue to advance its systems to prevent any similar responses in the future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is a damaging story for Amazon, and it was incredibly lucky that nobody was hurt. The story highlights how AI and algorithms can’t exercise judgement in the same way that a human can. It also illustrates how the Internet, apps, and the IoT can be dangerous for children and young people and how tech companies need to increase their efforts and their investment to make the digital world safer for young people. Parental oversight and control are also clearly still important elements in making sure that risks are minimised and that there is always a fail-safe in place.