Earlier this week, Amazon announced the Echo Show — the first Echo device with a touchscreen display. Alongside that announcement, Amazon revealed that voice calling and messaging would be coming to all of its Echo devices and the Alexa app as well. Unfortunately, the company appears to have made a major oversight when bringing voice calls to every Alexa device, one that threatens user privacy.
As The Verge reported on Friday afternoon (in light of a Medium post from Elise Oras), there is no way to block contacts from attempting to reach you via Alexa calling and messaging. As long as they have your phone number and the Alexa app, they can call you, leave you voice messages and send you texts, all of which will be received by your Echo device(s) and the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
The most frightening part of this is that Amazon hasn’t implemented any way to stop someone in your contacts list from reaching you through Alexa calling once you’ve imported it from your phone. Even if you have an ex or a cable company on the list specifically to block them or change their name to “DO NOT ANSWER,” they can still get through to your Echo if they have the Alexa app.
To make matters worse, it’s surprisingly difficult to disable Alexa calling once you’ve enabled it. There’s no setting in the app or on the website. You have to actually call Amazon’s customer service and request that the feature be deactivated from your account. Oras — the writer of the original Medium post — was forced to do this when she realized she had no other choice. She said that it only took a few minutes, but Amazon clearly needs to streamline this process in the future and add it to the app.
As The Verge notes, the only two options for Echo owners who want to retain their privacy are to never enable Alexa calling in the first place or use the “Do Not Disturb” feature to block calls from anyone and everyone. Even with the “Do Not Disturb” setting turned on though, messages will still arrive in the Alexa app. You’ll have to call Amazon if you want to stop that.
As massive of a platform as Echo and Alexa have become for Amazon, we can’t imagine it will be long before they implement major changes to how calling and messaging works. In the meantime, you might want to avoid the feature altogether, especially if you have contacts you’d rather not hear from.
UPDATE: An Amazon spokesperson got in touch with BGR to let us know that a call block feature “will be available in the coming weeks.”