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Smart speaker instructs child to touch penny to live electrical plug in ‘challenge’

An Amazon Echo Dot speaker is shown in this file photo. Mike Stewart / AP Photo

Virtual home assistants are designed to make life easier for their users, but one mom has sounded the alarm after her Amazon Echo speaker recommended a very dangerous activity to her child.

Kristin Livdahl shared on Twitter that Alexa instructed her 10-year-old daughter to play around with an electrical socket after she asked the assistant for a “challenge to do.”

“Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs,” the smart speaker said.

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Livdahl wrote that she was doing some “physical challenges” with her daughter, like “laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a (physical education) teacher on YouTube earlier. Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one.”

It was then that the speaker recommended they partake in a challenge that it had “found on the web.”

Livdahl tweeted that she quickly intervened, yelling at her speaker “No, Alexa, no!”

She also flagged the issue to Amazon.

The so-called #OutletChallenge or “penny challenge,” which originated on TikTok, calls for users to slide a penny in between a loosely plugged-in phone charger and an electrical outlet, causing large sparks of electricity. Videos of the sparks are then posted online.

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An officer with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency warned of the challenge last year, when the trend was first seen on social media platforms.

“You could set yourself on fire, you could set the building on fire and you can also damage things within the building,” Matt Covey, a fire prevention division chief, told Global News in 2020. “You’re damaging the electrical outlet. You could be damaging things in behind the wall where there’s wires or the electrical panel … so you could cause a whole bunch of hazards, some of them right away.”

Click to play video: 'What parents need to know about the ‘Penny Challenge’ on TikTok' What parents need to know about the ‘Penny Challenge’ on TikTok
What parents need to know about the ‘Penny Challenge’ on TikTok – Jan 30, 2020

In a statement to the BBC, Amazon said it took “swift action to fix (the error)” as soon as it became aware of Livdahl’s experience.

“Customer trust is at the centre of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers,” the online giant said.

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