Amazon confirms it locked Microsoft engineer out of his Echo gear over false claim
Racist tirade at delivery driver never actually happened
Brandon Jackson, a Microsoft site reliability engineer, says an errant report of racist abuse from an Amazon delivery driver led to the suspension of his Amazon account and the consequent inoperability of his Amazon Echo smart home hardware.
Jackson says he regained access to his Amazon account on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, after what he characterizes as an unjustified week-long lockout.
This incident left me with a house full of unresponsive devices, a silent Alexa, and a lot of questions
"This wasn’t just a simple inconvenience, though," he wrote. "I have a smart home, and my primary means of interfacing with all the devices and automations is through Amazon Echo devices via Alexa. This incident left me with a house full of unresponsive devices, a silent Alexa, and a lot of questions."
Jackson's smart home wasn't entirely non-functional during this period. Most of his smart home gear, he said, is self-hosted locally, via Apple HomeKit, and not tied to an Amazon cloud service. He could still interact with some devices through Apple's Siri assistant software.
Jackson attributes the suspension of his Amazon account – which controls his Echo hardware and Alexa software – to an Amazon driver misinterpreting an automated Eufy doorbell audio message.
The incident began, he claims, following the delivery of a package on May 24, 2023.
The next day he found he had been signed out of his Echo Show and his other smart devices were not responding. After determining that the lockout had not been caused by excessive failed login attempts, he called Amazon customer service and was told to look for an email from an Amazon executive.
Upon calling the number included in that message, Jackson says he "was told that the driver who had delivered my package reported receiving racist remarks from my 'Ring doorbell' (it’s actually a Eufy, but I’ll let it slide)."
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Jackson found this implausible because he had cameras that could verify what happened and because he considered it unlikely that anyone in his family would make such remarks given that "most delivery drivers in my area share the same race as me and my family." Furthermore, he determined that no one was home at the time of the alleged abuse.
"I reviewed the footage and confirmed that no such comments had been made," Jackson wrote. "Instead, the Eufy doorbell had issued an automated response: 'Excuse me, can I help you?' The driver, who was walking away and wearing headphones, must have misinterpreted the message. Nevertheless, by the following day, my Amazon account was locked, and all my Echo devices were logged out."
Jackson disputed the allegations and it took Amazon a week to restore his account.
"Through sharing my experience, I hope to encourage Amazon to reform and rethink their approach to handling such situations in the future," he wrote. "It’s essential for customers to feel confident in the security and reliability of their services, especially when those services are integral to the functionality of their homes. It’s time for Amazon to take a more customer-focused approach to problem-solving and conflict resolution."
Jackson said while he fully supports Amazon's right to look after the safety of its drivers, he questioned Amazon's decision to disable his system for a week during its investigation. And he said that his video of the incident, provided to Amazon, didn't appear to have any effect on the company's decision to suspend his account.
In his followup video, he emphasizes that the issue for him is Amazon and other tech companies exercising control over products that customers have purchased. It used to be that if you bought a toaster, you owned the toaster, he said, and Amazon or Apple or Google could not deprive you of that product.
The customer did not act inappropriately, and we’re working directly with the customer to resolve their concerns
The Register asked Amazon to confirm Jackson's account of what happened.
Without challenging any of the published claims, an Amazon spokesperson said, "We work hard to provide customers with a great experience while also ensuring drivers who deliver Amazon packages feel safe. In this case, we learned through our investigation that the customer did not act inappropriately, and we’re working directly with the customer to resolve their concerns while also looking at ways to prevent a similar situation from happening again."
The Register asked Amazon to clarify whether Jackson's account was suspended solely based on a claim made by its driver. We've not heard back. ®