This Amazon Alexa Accessory Is Unfortunately Named ‘DOX’

The ironic name choice underscores the fact that people are already concerned smart speakers are listening to their conversations.

Nov 13 2017, 7:04pm

Image: Shutterstock

To “dox,” according to Merriam-Webster, is to “publicly identify or publish private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” The practice is often thought of as the highest sin of the internet. Therefore, it’s probably not a good idea to name your smart-speaker device “DOX.” That would imply it could be used to listen to a person’s conversations and, well, dox them.

One company failed to see the irony here, or at least didn’t know the meaning of the word. Earlier this fall, Ninety7, a tech accessories company, released DOX, a portable battery that allows you to take your Amazon Echo Dot on the go. Usually, the Dot (and other Amazon smart speakers) need to be plugged into an outlet to work.

DOX is a particularly ironic name for a smart speaker accessory since a number of speakers have been found to have vulnerabilities that can be exploited to essentially transform them into tape recorders. I reached out to Ninety7 about where the name came from, and a spokesperson said in an email that it was "a play on the word dock," and was a "follow-up product to our best-selling VAUX speaker."

Just last week a bug was discovered that caused a small number of Google Home Mini smart speakers to near-constantly record every sound that occurred in their presence. Wonderful.

And earlier this year, law enforcement asked Amazon to hand over recordings from an Echo device as part of a murder investigation. Amazon’s smart speakers are always listening to the environment around them, waiting for the “wake word” that signals they should spring into action. Prosecutors believed the Echo might have stored audio recordings in the lead-up to the murder. Amazon fought the warrant, but handed over the recordings in the end when the defendant agreed for them to be released.

Image: Screenshot/Ninety7

To be clear, there’s no evidence the DOX does anything to turn an Amazon Dot into a listening device. But the unfortunate product name is a reminder that smart speakers are far from flawless. We still potentially trade some level of privacy in exchange for the convenience they provide.

Sometimes, apparently, your smart speaker can even get the cops called. Earlier this month, an Amazon smart speaker reportedly sprang to life and played music so loud that the authorities were called to a German man’s home, resulting in a fine. Doxed indeed.

Update 11/14/17 1:27 PM: This post has been updated with comment from Ninety7.

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