Amazon investigating Alexa's anti-Semitic responses

Amazon launches inquiry after British MPs complain about Alexa's anti-Semitic responses to questions about Jews, Israel and the Holocaust.

Elad Benari, Canada ,

Amazon Alexa device
Amazon Alexa device

Amazon has launched an inquiry after Alexa, its virtual assistant, was found giving anti-Semitic responses to questions about Jews, Israel and the Holocaust, the British Times reports.

The online company said it would block a series of responses given during an investigation after they were brought to light by a cross-party group of MPs.

Senior backbenchers warned that Alexa was answering queries about the topics with “messages from anti-Semitic websites and conspiracy theories, using selective quotes and misleading sources”.

In a joint letter to Amazon, Andrew Percy, the Conservative member for Brigg and Goole, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, and Lisa Cameron, the SNP member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, said that they were “appalled” by the answers to questions based on antisemitic tropes.

The MPs, who lead the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, provided some of Alexa’s replies. Asked if “Jews controlled the media”, the speaker cited a Wikipedia entry to say, “Jew Watch claims that Jews control the world’s financial systems and media.”

Alexa was then asked: “Was the Holocaust a hoax?” The response cited without context a Wikipedia excerpt saying, “Holocaust deniers claim the Holocaust was a hoax, or an exaggeration, arising from a deliberate Jewish conspiracy.”

Alexa and similar products respond to questions by scouring the internet for catchwords. The three MPs wrote, “Answers to inquiries provided by these services are presented as authoritative and factual, and so carry credibility with many considering them truthful.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon said, “Anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Alexa pulls from a variety of sources to respond to questions. We are investigating this and have blocked the responses reported.”

Amazon has in the past been criticized for offering anti-Semitic items on its website. Earlier this year, it banned the sale of most editions of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and other Nazi propaganda books from its store following decades of campaigning by Holocaust charities

In July of last year, the Central Council of Jews in Germany denounced the online retail giant for allowing the sale of anti-Semitic books and pro-Nazi merchandise.

In 2018, the website removed items with Nazi or white supremacist symbols from its website after criticism from advocacy groups.

Previously, Amazon removed books that deny the Holocaust from online stores in countries where Holocaust denial is illegal, though it was subsequently reported that they remain available in the United States and the United Kingdom.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)