In late December 2021, Snopes received inquiries asking if Alexa, the voice of Amazon’s Echo devices, really told a 10-year-old girl to touch a penny to the exposed prongs of a plug half-inserted into an electrical outlet, as part of a “one-penny challenge”.
It was true. On December 26, 2021, Kristin Livdahl, the girl’s mother, tweeted that the incident had occurred.
According to the mother, she and her daughter were “taking physical challenges from a physical education teacher on YouTube”. Her daughter asked the Echo device, “Tell me a challenge.” In response, Alexa’s voice responded“Here’s something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow.com: The challenge is simple: plug a phone charger halfway into a wall [socket], then touch a penny to the exposed teeth. However, the girl knew better.
“I was just standing there and yelling, ‘No, Alexa, no! as if it were a dog”, the mother tweeted. “My daughter says she’s too smart to do something like that anyway.”
She later received a message from an Amazon tech support representative who said they were looking into the matter. The BBC and Business Intern released statements from Amazon confirming that the incident happened and steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again. We also contacted the company for more information.
“Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to deliver accurate, relevant and useful information to customers,” the statement said. “As soon as we became aware of this error, we quickly corrected it and are taking steps to prevent something similar from happening again.”
“You can lose fingers”
According to BBC reportsthe “penny challenge” first surfaced on TikTok about a year before Livdahl’s incident with Alexa:
Metals conduct electricity and inserting them into live electrical outlets can cause electric shock, fire and other damage.
“I know you can lose fingers, hands, arms,” said Carlisle East Fire Station Superintendent Michael Clusker. The Press newspaper in Yorkshire in 2020.
“The result is that someone will be seriously injured.”
Firefighters in the United States also spoke out against the so-called challenge.
The existence of TikTok challenges and the headlines they inspired might lead some readers to believe that a lot of young children and teenagers were participating in them. This could lead older generations to make negative remarks about younger generations, despite the lack of data.
However, as we’ve seen with other challenges that surfaced on TikTok (and social media in general), there often seemed to be little to no evidence of widespread participation in many dangerous activities.
The idea that a large percentage of young people were participating in potentially dangerous social media challenges did not coincide with reality. At the same time, this does not mean that there has not been tragic incidents that happened.
According to smarterhomeguide.com, Alexa devices use Microsoft’s Bing search engine to find its answers and information. We reached out to Microsoft to ask if the result of the “penny challenge” text read by Alexa’s voice came from Bing, and if so, if any steps had been taken to remove the content. We’ll update this story if we receive a response.
While the Echo and other similar things like the Google Nest are often referred to as “smart speakers” that can respond to queries, it might not be far from the truth to refer to them primarily as entertainment devices. broadcasting for paid music subscription services. In the past, products were offered for $0.99or even free.
In short, yes, Alexa told a 10-year-old girl to touch a penny at an electrical outlet. However, the girl did not, and Amazon said it has since corrected the error.
“Alexa tells a 10-year-old girl to touch the live plug with Penny.” BBC NewsDecember 28, 2021. www.bbc.comhttps://www.bbc.com/news/technology-59810383.
Boté, Joshua. “How the Media Panic Triggered the TikTok Violence ‘Challenge’ Debunked.” SFGate, December 17, 2021, https://www.sfgate.com/essays/article/School-shooting-TikTok-challenge-16710758.php.
“Firefighters Warning Regarding ‘Penny Challenge’.” York PressFebruary 5, 2020, https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/18212070.firefighters-warning-teens-penny-challenge-tiktok/.
Jackson, Sarah. “Amazon says it fixed an error that led to Alexa telling a 10-year-old girl to put a penny in an electrical outlet.” Business InternDecember 28, 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-fixes-alexa-penny-challenge-error-girl-told-touch-outlet-2021-12.
“New TikTok ‘Benadryl Challenge’ Blamed For Teenage Girl’s Death; Here’s Why It’s So Dangerous. Health.comSeptember 28, 2020, https://www.health.com/mind-body/tiktok-benadryl-challenge.
Schon, Ben. “Google One is offering a free Home Mini to select users with active storage plans.” 9to5GoogleMarch 11, 2019, https://9to5google.com/2019/03/11/google-one-free-home-mini/.
Webb, Julia. “Right now, you can get an Amazon Echo Dot for just $0.99.” AwareMay 21, 2021, https://www.intheknow.com/post/amazon-echo-dot-dollar/.
“What search engine does Alexa use? And can I use Google to…” smart home guideJuly 14, 2020, https://smarterhomeguide.com/alexa-search-engine/.