IoT security: Alexa down worldwide, speaks ill of Amazon

IoT security: Alexa down worldwide, speaks ill of Amazon

Internet of Business says

Amazon’s Alexa service went down in many parts of the world on 26 September, with #Alexadown problems reported in the UK, Europe, the US, Japan, and Australia.

Reports of the ‘red ring of death’ on Echo and Dot devices, together with ‘Something went wrong’ and ‘Unable to connect’ messages, began appearing about 8am UK time, and seemed to fan out across the globe during the day.

“This morning we had an issue that impacted some Alexa customers’ ability to interact with the service. The Alexa service is now operating normally,” said Amazon.

Despite this statement yesterday afternoon, outage reports continued to appear later in the day, in the US and elsewhere.

Global ripples

Outage tracker Downdetector.com, which tracks the service uptime and reliability of countless cloud platforms, Web services, and communities, shows a spike of reported server problems between 7pm and 9pm UK time – afternoon in the US.

One user wrote, “I have three Amazon Echos, one Echo spot, and two Amazon Echo dots (2nd gen) all glow with a red ring and are giving me the same message ‘Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try a little later’.”

Another said: “The Alexa app on my phone is showing ‘Sorry, we’re experiencing system issues’, and it says they’re working on the problem.”

Amazon’s stores themselves exhibited patchy service throughout the day, but that’s not unusual compared with most platforms displayed on Downdetector: a map of the online world’s peaks and valleys.

From Downdetector.com.

Why this is a big problem for Amazon

With Amazon placing its smart speakers and the new generation of Alexa-enabled devices at the centre of the smart home and office – including a tie-up with Microsoft’s Cortana – such problems could be more serious for users than an inaccessible website.

The reality that these are not standalone devices, but an extension of Amazon’s cloud service into the home and office, is now apparent to the service’s millions of users. Their homes and workplaces are vulnerable nodes on the internet, not a self-contained network that keeps intruders at bay.

With skills for the smart home and office both now central to Amazon’s strategy, and a growing family of interconnected devices – including microwaves, cameras, power points, home security services, and more – reliability, security, and uptime are critical.

This is what distinguishes devices such as the Echo and Dot from a Bluetooth speaker or sound bar. Their utility grows the more devices, services, and skills are connected to them.

But retail is the real battleground, for both Amazon and its rivals.

The retail search dimension

With Google now rivalling Amazon in the digital assistant and smart speaker space – often giving away its Google Home Mini devices for a bridgehead into the connected home – the battle is on for users’ hearts and minds.

Critical for Google is its core search facility. Voice already accounted for 20 percent of all searches in 2017. Since then, voice searches asking where items can be bought have increased by 85 percent, according to figures from Seekingalpha.com. Being able to buy the item is what Amazon is all about.

Forty-four percent of those who use their voice-activated speaker regularly say they use the device to order products they need, like groceries and household items, at least once a week.

Google can’t afford to cede any more of that ground to Amazon, whose search facility is all about selling the item, not locating it.

In turn, Amazon will be hoping that Google Express’s own retail partnerships – such as with the world’s biggest company by revenue, Walmart – won’t undermine its ecommerce empire.

Anyone doubting how important retail is to Google should look again at the Google homepage when searching for items: item one, page one, is frequently an option to buy.

For Amazon, meanwhile, hours of Alexa downtime mean hours in which those sales may go via Google, or to another retailer.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.