Tuesday, 3 October 2017

On Tech

I’m a luddite. Not on purpose, you understand - I just have certain issues. Issues that prevent me finding the brain space to stay abreast of modern technology. By “certain issues”, I of course mean “my issue”; and by “my issue”, I’m generally referring to my first-born, who is so addicted to the sound of his own voice that moments of silence actually cause him pain. Six years have passed since my neural network last sparked and it’s only thanks to muscle memory that I can still operate a light switch.

For this reason, I tend not to enter that many tech giveaways. Last December, however, I saw that Aviva was giving away a whole heap Amazon Echo Dots, and the lure of such odds got the better of me.

As you'll have guessed, I was one of the winners. The doohickey arrived at the end of the Christmas holidays. It then sat on the shelf for the next eight months, waiting for me to have a couple of hours free from work, chores or children to explore what it could do (and how).
The Amazon Doohickey
My initial hopes were somewhat kyboshed, as I was rather hoping to use it as a wireless speaker - something that has been on my wishlist for some time now. A cursory inspection, however, suggested that I’d got the wrong end of the stick regarding what the device could do; which is to say, I hadn’t got much further than interrogating Alexa about forthcoming football fixtures and her ability to open the pod bay doors when my brood arrived home from their jolly.

On learning that that the device was fully programmed to entertain his poppycock, my first-born whooped like an immature ambulance. In truth, I was pretty chuffed too, and flushed with self-satisfaction, popped into the kitchen to brief my wife about our new electric babysitter.

The smug smile lasted a whole three minutes, after which first-born trotted in to provide an update. He’d started a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited.

It turns out that all Echo devices are, by default, allowed to bill your credit card based on voice authorisation alone. This much I discovered not because Amazon sent immediate confirmation of my new subscription (this didn’t arrive for another hour), but because I found the transcript of the conversation between my son and Alexa. When asked if he wanted to pay a monthly subscription fee of £3.99, his response was “sure”, and his word was bond.

The only trouble was, he never said that. Rather, when asked if he wanted to subscribe, he walked out of the room. I know this, because I (eventually) found the audio files. The system had heard some background noise and frankly this was good enough to close the contract. So, now I not only have two children who hear only what they want to hear, but I also have a passive-aggressive POS terminal furnished with selective hearing and my credit card details.

Have you ever had a prize that didn’t work out quite the way you planned? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. we have a similar techie prize that Richard won months and months ago - it's some sort of universal remote control that can be set up to do all sorts of things but he's not got around to setting it up yet so it's sitting in the cupboard. THat's so funny about the amazon music!!! We know someone (I've been sworn to secrecy to not say who) who's child who was a toddler at the time managed to rack up about a 300 quid bill on in-app purchases whilst playing games on an ipad because the parent had unlocked the passcode. I think they did get it refunded but it's still a massive worry that it can happen so easily.

    1. You read about children racking up these bills and you think, well, it won't happen to me because I've taken xx precautions, and then technology hits you with a fresh curveball! The pressure is extra on me because my wife has surrendered all tech decisions & maintenance to me - now we have a new boiler, she refuses to learn how to put the heating on!