Elderly woman signed up for recurring subscription after asking voice assistant to say the Hail Mary

Originally published at: Elderly woman signed up for recurring subscription after asking voice assistant to say the Hail Mary | Boing Boing


Remember: everything you say to the Shit Genie signs a contract you haven’t read.

Add in blockchain and you have a “smart contract” predicated on the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable for a smarter or better-informed person should be able to con gull one who isn’t (“what, you’re not a lawyer who can also read source code?”). Libertarian practical business ethics in a nutshell.


What’s egregious about this case is that

Patricia, a retired district nurse in Hastings, does not own a computer, and does not know how to use one. She had signed up by voice command, without being presented with the kind of outline or terms and conditions that now comes as standard when you pay for things online.

So presumably she does not have an email address and she was never shown or informed about any contract. Even when she made the verbal request for it to say the Hail Mary, it did not say “there is a charge for this”. There ought to be a legal requirement for the counter-party to physically write to any such customer informing them of the existence of a contract, or at least openly state it, cite the charges and seek confirmation before proceeding.

However, it was only discovered because the charges appeared on her son’s account, as he had bought and given her the Shit Genie to start with. So he was the ‘customer’ as far as Amazon was concerned.

I guess they make it impossible to buy an Alexa device unless you actually have an Amazon account.


It’s also depressingly predictable that the scam perpetrated on this elderly person was the doing of a religious grifter. I’m sure far-right organizations and MLMs have their own dodgy subscription services allowed by Amazon.

I believe this is the case. A lot of the most basic functions (checking the weather, playing music, asking a Wikipedia style question) are covered under a the flat cost Amazon Prime account. I doubt I’d see anything untoward on my mother’s Amazon account in connection with her Echo, but while she’s elderly she’s not religious or a right-winger.


But at least she has an account (though, yes, there’s the implicit risk of more vulnerable users not even seeing or understanding their own account charges).

But beware giving these things to others as gifts when they are on your own account, people. Check your account in detail, often!


I had a similar problem when Amazon signed me up for Paramount+. TWICE, WHEN I DIDN’T EVEN ASK FOR IT!!

Nuclear Explosion Falling GIF


These things are very popular gifts, which to me is the equivalent of giving someone a box of ground up asbestos. We were given one of the early Google ones (with receipt, thankfully). We returned it for a badass Logitech keyboard, a game controller, a Kitchen Aid hand mixer, walkie-talkies for the kids and a few other bits. Not only can I not believe that people allow a digital spy in their house, but that they pay so much for it.

Can you believe they used to have to do the grifting themselves? Truly an age of miracles and wonder.


Not sure where you’re coming from with this; She’s an elderly devout Catholic, given a voice-controlled device by her son, who’s actually paying the bill for the device. At no time was she actually out of pocket, and nobody made her ask the Shit Genie (I have to say at this point I absolutely love that name for it!) to do something she’d be doing in church. That’s not a grift, but charging without making it absolutely clear that in asking the device to do this would incur a monthly cost is unacceptable.
I don’t have one of these devices, I don’t use Siri, although there are occasions when I’m driving I can see a use for it.
I would love a couple of the original HomePods, because they apparently sound amazing, but I doubt very much I’d enable Siri; “Hey, Siri, what’s the weather?” “Hey, asshole, look out of the fucking window!”
I have weather apps that will give me a full rundown of the day’s weather, complete with precipitation radar, I don’t need Siri.


At my last job, the company gave everyone an Amazon shit genie as a holiday gift. We all tried to give them away to each other but nobody wanted them. I think they all landed in e-waste because none of us want Bezos listening to everything we do.

P.S. Thank you @beschizza for “shit genie”. This made my day.


Asking the Echo to say a simple daily Hail Mary should not require a subscription or charge beyond the base Amazon one, any more than asking it for the weather or traffic conditions or to play a song is. Whoever created this recurring subscription service/app saw the opportunity for a grift and took it, apparently with Amazon’s blessing.


This is why I don’t own a smart speaker. I might build one that’s a glorified SomaFM streaming box but nothing else.


I’ve actually been looking into building a voice assistant setup that: a) operates without the need for any internet whatsoever (entirely on-prem); b) is able to access, say, a local file share or NAS store where my audio collection resides and play it on one or more devices; and c) interact with my home automation system (a Hubitat).

I’ve got a couple ideas for it, but I need to acquire/build the hardware for it, which is sadly not going to be cheap.


Seriously - something like Hail Mary is literally everywhere on the internet for free, the Shit Genie shouldn’t need an app to play a recording of it, it could just do a Google (or Bing or DuckDuckGo or whatever) search for a Haily Mary text and then read it aloud via text-to-voice. Sure, that’s not as fancy as playing a fancy recording, but if a user wants that they should absolutely be informed that they can only get it by subscribing to a service, something that clearly didn’t happen in this case. Companies shouldn’t be able to sign people up for services without their express consent after having presented them with all the necessary info about the subscription!


And the people bowed and prayed
to the neon God they made.


The recent movie Warning had a concept like this where a woman had a creepy, predatory religiously-themed smart speaker/personal assistant.

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I don’t own or use a voice assistant (other than light use of Siri on my phone) but I’d expect that if I’m being signed up for something that will cost money, I’d be warned before having to to confirm that. I’d want something like “I can do this by subscribing you to for per month. Do you want me to continue?” and if I answer yes, I’d want “Are you sure you want a paid subscription?”.

I’m not sure what to do about kids. You could have a password but odds are the kid will hear a parent order something with the password and remember that.

By the way: https://xkcd.com/1807/



Oh, was that not a nun joke?


I mean, if you look at the original folklore, that’s exactly the sort of thing the djinn would do. A bit like the fey, if you encounter an evil one, watch out.


Well at least she finally has hard proof that SOMEONE was listening to her prayers.


I’m only commenting in hopes that the term shit genie catches on.