South Park Exposes Vulnerability of IoT Streaming Data by Activating Alexa Devices Across America
South Park Kids Make Jokes and IoT Devices Seriously React
In the debut episode for South Park’s 21st season, the beloved characters not only poked fun at the white nationalist movement in an episode called ‘White People Renovating Houses’, but also yelled commands at their own cartoon Alexa devices throughout the episode. This actually started activating Alexa and Google Home models in the homes of viewers.
In the episode, after proclaiming that smart devices are stupid, South Park character Eric Cartman got a smartphone and an Amazon Echo speaker. Cartman’s interaction with Alexa starts innocently enough, with a request to Alexa to set an alarm and tell a joke.
The best moments definitely came as the South Park kids asked Amazon Echo’s Alexa to do and say increasingly disgusting things. “It’s a very dumb joke that never gets old because who hasn’t asked their smart home device something idiotic?”
This has been seen before. Earlier this year, in Burger King’s “Whopper Burger” television ad, they activated Google Home devices and had them recite the Wikipedia entry related to Burger King’s Whopper. “The reaction at the time ranged from laughter to outrage. In the end, Burger King and its ad agency won a top industry award, a Cannes Lions for the stunt.”
Stirring Up Trouble with IoT Devices Leads to Serious Reactions on Twitter
Not only was it revealed that there are people who own both an Alexa and a Google Home, but more seriously that the show could stir up trouble for both. As viewers got further into the episode, some viewers even had to unplug the listening mechanism on their devices.
Viewers took to Twitter to share videos and comment on what the episode was doing to their own devices.
This episode of South Park drove my Alexa crazy. I never knew my Alexa had such a potty mouth. pic.twitter.com/lWIHySClRd
— Tony French (@TonyLFrench) September 14, 2017
New South Park episode is making Alexa go nuts. pic.twitter.com/Rs8oNL7s2u
— Tom Buros (@TomBuros) September 14, 2017
Breaking Boundaries Exposes an IoT Weakness
Not only was this intrusion a massive violation of entertainment’s fourth wall, but there is a much greater issue here with the appearance of a new form of ‘digital voice attack’, further weakening our boundaries. “The fact that Alexa doesn’t identify users means that for “her,” all us humans are the same. Actually, you don’t even need a real person to speak.”
The world of Internet of Things (IoT) introduces new types problems. While we have felt a general sense of security and control, this act and the targeted technology forces us to redefine our boundaries – borders that are much harder to define and measure because they are not definite.
Detecting When Something Goes Wrong with Anodot AI Analytics
Anodot actually already warned about the potential for this happening back in February.
This raises the underlying question: How do we detect and recognize when these now ubiquitous AI-controlled systems get something wrong? Most AI systems aren’t quite capable of dealing with these difficult, anomalous behaviors.
More importantly, this situation could have been avoided, but should serve as a warning to companies making real-time business decisions based on streaming data—there needs to be systems in place to detect when something out of place happens, and to let the right people know.
Anodot would have flagged the dramatic spike in search terms and alerted the responsible Amazon team to the issue to investigate further. Anodot would have been crunching Amazon’s time series data to determine the normal range for these searches. When the spike in Alexa-powered shopping lists rose beyond normal limits, Anodot would have triggered an action and applied a significance score that could help Amazon determine how fast and comprehensive the response might have been.