Hacker Exploits Apple News to Send Obscene Push Alert

Hacker Exploits Apple News to Send Obscene Push Alert

The hacker hijacked the content management system at the magazine Fast Company.

I’ve been with PCMag since October 2017, covering a wide range of topics, including consumer electronics, cybersecurity, social media, networking, and gaming. Prior to working at PCMag, I was a foreign correspondent in Beijing for over five years, covering the tech scene in Asia.

Hacker Exploits Apple News to Send Obscene Push Alert Image

A hacker managed to send racist, obscene messages to numerous Apple News users on Tuesday night by infiltrating the online systems at the business magazine Fast Company.

The hacker abused the push notification function on Fast Company’s Apple News account to send out the offensive message, which contained the n-word and sexual language. The message was also signed “Thrax was here.”

In response, Apple says (Opens in a new window) Fast Company was hacked and promptly disabled the magazine’s channel on Apple News.

Fast Company also published a statement (Opens in a new window) confirming the breach. The hacker hijacked the magazine’s content management system on Tuesday evening. “As a result, two obscene and racist push notifications were sent to our followers in Apple News about a minute apart,” the magazine said.

The hacker also had access to content posted on Fast Company’s main website. This led the culprit to also post a similar offensive message on and other pages.

“The messages are vile and are not in line with the content and ethos of Fast Company. We are investigating the situation and have shut down until the situation has been resolved,” the magazine said. The site continues to remain down; visiting it will result in a “404 Not Found” error message.

Thousands of People Listen to Alexa Voice Recordings

Amazon is always improving Alexa, and that requires thousands of people listen to, transcribe, and annotate the things we say when the smart assistant is listening.

I’ve been working at PCMag since November 2016, covering all areas of technology and video game news. Before that I spent nearly 15 years working at as a writer and editor. I also spent the first six years after leaving university as a professional game designer working with Disney, Games Workshop, 20th Century Fox, and Vivendi.

Amazon Echo (2017)

When interacting with Alexa, you aren’t talking to a human, but that doesn’t mean to say other humans won’t hear what’s said. In fact, Amazon has thousands of people listening to our Alexa voice recordings every day.

It may, or may not come as a revelation to you that what’s said in the vicinity of an Alexa smart speaker or display can be recorded and sent back to Amazon. As Bloomberg reports (Opens in a new window) , there’s a big human element to Alexa, and it’s vital for the smart assistant to continue getting better at its job.

Amazon employs thousands of people whose task it is to transcribe, annotate, and then feedback into Alexa’s underlying software anything learned from specific recordings. This is a full time job for individuals scattered around the world, with confirmed locations in Costa Rica, India, Romania, and closer to home in Boston.

A nine hour shift will see each employee listen to up to 1,000 voice recordings. Their task is to identify the human speech Alexa doesn’t fully understand and add the required extra information to ensure Alexa can respond more adeptly in future. By having thousands of people carry out this process daily, Amazon is relentlessly improving its smart assistant to handle any and all requests for all regions of the world. Customers can help too, though.

The workers do occasionally hear upsetting and potentially criminal recordings, which are discussed in internal chat rooms and fed back to Amazon if necessary. However, Amazon’s stance is apparently one of not interfering. The workers also have no way of identifying who they are listening to as any personal or account information is removed.

According to an Amazon spokesperson, "We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone."

Bloomberg also discovered that even though Alexa is only meant to listen and record when the "wake word" is spoken, that’s not always the case. One of the workers spoken to said up to 100 recordings are being transcribed every day when Alexa was triggered by something other than the wake word.