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Amazon Alexa told 10-year-old to do dangerous 'outlet challenge,' mom says

Amazon says they are taking steps to help prevent something similar from happening again.
/ Source: TODAY

Amazon has apologized to Kristin Livdahl after she said the brand's Echo device challenged her child to put a coin into an electrical outlet.

"OMFG My 10 year old just asked Alexa on our Echo for a challenge and this is what she said," Livdahl tweeted, alongside a screenshot of the challenge from Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, on December 26.

According to Livdahl, the device — via Alexa's voice — encouraged the participating user to touch a metal coin into an active electrical outlet and gave a 20-second time limit.

"Here's something I found on the web. According to The challenge is simple: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs."

Twitter users were quick to respond and Livdahl's original tweet has since garnered more than 3,600 retweets.

One commenter shared in a tweet their experience of putting a key in a live electrical outlet as a child.

"I can tell you that it knocks you unconscious and badly burns your hand," the tweet read. "It also hurts a lot. Lucky for me my muscles spasmed as I was shocked and I gripped the key as I fell, breaking the circuit."

"My brother did this exact same thing and got a bad shock and black hand," Livdahl said, replying to the commenter. "That was what was running through my mind as I heard the interchange. I was right there to say no but I hope my daughter would have checked in with me anyway before trying it. Now, I know she will."

One Twitter user suggested operating the device in "kids mode" to prevent this type of interaction.

Livdahl responded she was unaware of this mode, but would be installing it.

"I didn’t know they’d added this — we will be setting it up tomorrow," she responded in a tweet. "I don’t think it was available when we first got it."

An automated response from Amazon's customer service account, Amazon Help, replied on Dec. 27, providing a link for support. The account was not tagged in Livdahl's tweet.

Later that day, Livdahl shared a message she says she received from Amazon's Tech Support Executive Customer Relations team.

"We're currently working with our developers regarding your Alexa concern," the email, written by an associate self-identified as Jeremy M., read. "As soon as we received further information, we'll contact you with an update. In the meantime, please feel free to reply to this email with any questions or concerns you may have. We appreciate your patience."

The virtual device appeared to source the challenge from 'Our Community Now,' which featured "The Outlet Challenge" in early 2020 and provided a word-for-word synopsis of the dialogue Alexa shared.

"The resulting sparks are supposed to be cool enough to win you instant internet fame. (Obviously, do NOT attempt this!)," the article stated, a disclaimer that was omitted from the algorithm-controlled device's challenge.

In a statement to TODAY late Tuesday, an Amazon spokesperson acknowledged the alleged challenge and apologized.

"Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers," an e-mailed statement read. "As soon as we became aware of this error, we quickly fixed it, and will continue to advance our systems to help prevent similar responses in the future."

Livdahl later tweeted the interaction was a vital opportunity to discuss safety at home and online.

"It was a good moment to go through internet safety and not trusting things you read without research and verification again," she wrote on Twitter. "We thought the cesspool of YouTube was what we needed to worry about at this age—with limited internet and social media access—but not the only thing."