In my April 17th newsletter, we spent some time exploring an Alexa Skill called “Find My Phone.” We found three troubling issues with the skill that stood out from the others.
- The skill automatically subscribes you to its email newsletter
- The skill charges users without their knowledge
- Alexa’s signoff of “See ya” seems odd and off-brand
I reached out and worked with Amazon to clarify these findings. Today, I’ve got both good news and bad news. Here’s what we uncovered.
What is “Find My Phone”
Find My Phone is an Alexa skill that enables Alexa to call your phone for you. The idea is if you can’t find your phone somewhere in your house, you can use this skill to find it.
It’s a great idea, and one that can be done in different ways on different platforms. For example, you can use Siri to find your phone, or any other Apple product, with this same command.
For more info on the command, check out the Alexa Skills section of this newsletter. Look for the red flag.
Working with Amazon
I reached out to Amazon to let them know about Find My Phone and its corresponding issues. Amazon was really helpful and worked closely with me to review the skill and see what was happening. Here’s what came of it.
Automatic Subscription to Newsletter
Amazon confirmed that the company behind Find My Phone, Matchbox.io, has access to your Amazon account email and is allowed to sign you up for a newsletter without asking for your permission.
Amazon directed me to review the skill’s rating information on the Alexa Skill page, which is labeled “Guidance Suggested.” This information includes a list of disclaimers and notices of content that the skill has access to, including:
In this case, the personal information collected is your email address–at the minimum. It’s unclear if the skill has access to more.
So in conclusion, the skill does have access to your email address, and more. Amazon allows this. Going forward, I’ll be paying closer attention to the ratings to make sure we know what permissions and data a given skill has.
Some good news here. According to Amazon, this Alexa Skill was updated in mid 2019 to remove this feature. So don’t worry about the skill charging you to use it these days. This is also consistent with the Skill Page. I’m not able to find anything that says the skill has “Premium Content.”
Odd Alexa SignOff
The signoff the Alexa Skill used was one of the first items that sounded strange to me. Alexa used the words, “See ya.” Turns out after talking to Amazon, the company doesn’t have strict brand guidelines on Alexa, so 3rd party developers, like in this case, are allowed to vary the Voice Assistant’s signoff. I still think this sounds strange, and is really jarring when compared to other interactions with Alexa. Let’s hope as this technology grows, Amazon will unify the brand voice so Alexa provides its users a seamless and consistent experience.
Given that the skill no longer charges users, I do see it in a better light. Just make sure you’re willing to hand over some of your personal information, which most likely isn’t only limited to your email and phone number.
I also spent a few minutes looking at some other alternatives in the Alexa Skill store. All of these skills come with the same rating of Guidance Suggested. So all have access to your personal information. Turns out, Find My Phone is one of the few that is completely free. Phone Tracker is your other option. After trying it, I didn’t receive an automatic email newsletter, which is nice.
Other options require you to buy another device or install extra software on your phone.
- Find My Phone and Key: Requires another device called a Pebblebee Finder
- Tile: Requires another device called a Tile
- Phone Tracker: Most similar to Find My Phone, but also has In-Skill Purchases for extra uses
- Where’s My Droid: Requires you to download an app, and it only works on Android. No cell phone number required, which is nice. The bad news is you need to give the app access to your GPS.
Also note, Google does have a nice service to let you find your phone if you have a Google account. This might be a safer option, especially if Google already has your info.
Going forward in my weekly roundups, I’ll pay closer attention to the Alexa Skill Ratings to see what personal information skills have access to. I’ll also keep an eye on phrases Alexa Skills use with users. While Alexa doesn’t have brand guidelines that enforce a pattern for Alexa regarding signoff phrases, I expect this will change in the future.
Reader note: Looks like there are several other competitors to Find My Phone in the skills marketplace. While I haven’t tested them all, are there any you would personally recommend? Drop me a comment below.