Amazon's Alexa tells 10-year-old to touch a penny to a live socket

"The challenge is simple: Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs," Alexa told the child.

Prompts on how to use Amazon's Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon ‘experience centre’ in Vallejo, California, US, May 8, 2018. (photo credit: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / REUTERS)
Prompts on how to use Amazon's Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon ‘experience centre’ in Vallejo, California, US, May 8, 2018.
(photo credit: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / REUTERS)

A 10-year-old was told to touch a penny to a plug socket by Amazon's Alexa voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant software, the child's mother said on Sunday in a now-viral tweet. 

Kristin Livdalh's child asked Alexa on their Amazon Echo smart speakers for an Internet "challenge" — In which participants record themselves performing a specified action and then challenge others to do the same. Alexa, which is voice-controlled, told the child "Here's something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow.com: The challenge is simple: Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs."

According to Our Community Now, Alexa pulled the information from their January 2020 article warning parents about the danger of the viral penny challenge. 

"We feel the need to reiterate: Do not plug in a phone charger halfway through a wall outlet and then touch a penny to the exposed prongs. It's highly dangerous and may cause serious injury," wrote OCN in response to Alexa's error.

"Hi there. We're sorry to hear this! Please reach out to us directly via the following link so that we can look into this further with you," Amazon Help tweeted at first in a reply to Livdahl. "We hope this helps."

An Amazon logo is seen at its centre in Darlington, County Durham, Britain September 3, 2020 (credit: LEE SMITH / REUTERS)An Amazon logo is seen at its centre in Darlington, County Durham, Britain September 3, 2020 (credit: LEE SMITH / REUTERS)

Amazon was criticized for their response, but insisted that they needed more information to be able to take action.

"You need to escalate this issue internally immediately... because this is a threat to life and limb. You have all the info you need. don't wait for the customers to do your job for you," said Twitter user Shaun Ruigrok.

"We need more information to get this issue escalated. Please provide more information to us through the link provided. Once we receive and process your details, we'll do everything we can to assist," said an Amazon Help representative, who mistakenly responded to another Twitter user that wasn't Livdahl. 

Livdahl shared that Amazon contacted her directly on Tuesday.

"We're currently working with our developers regarding your Alexa concern. As soon as we receive 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," read the email from Amazon tech support executive customer relations. 

A 2020 Wisconsin Public Service video warned that besides risk of electrocution, the outlet challenge could also cause sparks that could cause serious burns. 

This is not the first time Alex's Internet curation has caused controversy. In November 2020, UK Conservative Party MP Andrew Percy said that Amazon's virtual artificial intelligence assistant product often responds to certain questions about Jews, the Holocaust and Israel "by quoting antisemitic conspiracy websites and using selective quotes from other sources which are misleading without further explanation."
One video shown by Percy had Alexa responding to a question about the Elders of Zion by stating: "Here’s something I found on the web: According to palwatch.org, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the swindlers of Zion have revealed their schemes to subjugate the nations and gain control of the world."