2022 – Alexa, why did I pay £2 to say hello Mary? | Consumer Affairs

WWhen my mother, 87-year-old Patricia Collinson, got an Alexa speaker from my sister, she was thrilled to find that she could ask him to say hello, Mary. For a week, a devout Catholic asked Alexa to recite a prayer every morning.

What she wasn’t happy to know is that she inadvertently ordered a premium subscription, paid for through Amazon to a private company called Catholic Prayers.

Patricia, a retired nurse in Hastings, doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t know how to use it. You signed up by voice command without being presented with the kind of outline or terms and conditions that are now standard when you pay for things online.

Her experiment sheds light on a relatively new phenomenon, which is “skills” Alexa. Launched in the UK in 2016, this is the app version of the Voice Service. There are 45,000 in the UK, ranging from safety offerings (eg letting Alexa hear broken glass or smoke alarms) to recipe ideas and even “hug services”.

While they’re usually free to order verbally via Amazon’s Alexa, many also encourage in-app purchases – which can be made simply by saying “yes”.

Patricia says she never realized she was buying anything or getting involved.

“I used to get off in the morning, sit in my chair and say, ‘Good morning, Alexa. Can you say avi marie please.

“He was never asked for money. He never said it bothered me. That was completely new to me “.

Alexa was created by my sister Catherine and is connected to her Amazon account. I spotted an unusual email from the retailer that read: “Confirmation. Your payment has been processed and your subscription period has begun “.

Thankfully, the subscription was just £1.99 a month and there was a seven-day free cancellation period, which Catherine discovered in due course. But my sister is still confused about how my mother would have completed the contract and how she would pay my mother now if she had not noticed the email.

My sister said jokingly “Thank God she didn’t ask Alexa to say the rosary” Referring to the prayer series that includes 53 Peace be upon you, Mary.

But there is a serious point here. Digital voice assistants, such as those from Amazon and Google, can now be found in millions of homes in the UK. Vulnerable consumers, including children and people who are not computer savvy, can inadvertently purchase premium subscriptions by simply saying “yes”.

Patricia Collinson: “He never said it bothered me. It was completely new to me. Photo: Patrick Collinson

In a statement, Amazon said: “Voice purchases allow customers to purchase content by saying yes to a product offering message that is generated when a customer orders the product directly or when the customer responds positively to a proactive suggestion within the appropriate capacity”.

She added: “After a voice purchase, customers will receive an order confirmation email from Amazon. Through Skill Catholicism, customers are offered a free seven-day trial, after which they will be asked if they want to continue their subscription for a fee. “.

I had the good fortune that my sister spotted the email from amazon or the payment would be made every month.

Guardian Money has contacted the developer responsible for Catholic Prayer, Nicholas Azzarello, who lives in the United States. He said he was very sorry for the trouble he had caused my mom, adding that she “You probably didn’t realize what Alexa was asking when she said yes.”

He added: “Your mom might have said yes and then Alexa showed her the cost of the premium subscription a month after the seven-day trial ended. Then I asked Alexa if she was sure she wanted to sign in, and your mom probably said yes as well, although she might not have fully understood what Alexa was talking about. “.

Azzarello said Catholic Prayer has about 10,000 monthly users but is in no way affiliated with the Catholic Church itself.

Amazon said that for skills aimed at children, consent is required for every voice purchase and parents can opt out of voice purchases. She said: “Developers should clarify if their skills are aimed at children when submitting the skill to Amazon”.

When Guardian Money asked Google Assistant about Hail Maria, it was provided without payment or any attempt to request payment. We could not find any premium service charges for similar content.

But for many Alexa developers, the skill service has enabled them to make big money.

On its trade pages, Amazon encourages IT developers to “Earn money with Alexa Developer Rewards”. He brags about how an American developer made $25,000 in six months of “bedtime messages” Produced by Alexa “just for fun”.

How to disable voice purchase through Alexa

There are several ways to prevent unintended voice purchases of skills, goods, or services through Alexa, all of which can be accessed through the Alexa app on your Android phone, iPhone, or tablet.

Open the Alexa app and go to More > Settings > Account Settings > Voice Purchase to see all the available options. ” src = “https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/b1865cc6fabad9ab098bea3c000a64a52d74a026/0_0_3510_2532/master/3510.jpg?width=445&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=1671014a95″ loading “35” class = “dcr-1989ovb”/> </picture></div><figcaption class =Open the Alexa app and go to More > Settings > Account Settings > Voice Purchase to view all available options. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Open the app and go to: More > Settings > Account Settings > Audio Purchase.

Here you will find the option to disable voice purchases entirely or set a PIN that must be spoken to allow transactions. You can also block purchases for some profiles only by recognizing the person’s language ID, eg b. You, but not your children.

In addition, the purchase of voice within children’s skills can be completely disabled or set to “Purchase approval required” which will send a text message and/or email to the registered account holder to unsubscribe. Sam Gibbs

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