What does Alexa know and will Amazon tell?

Did Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, hear something that could help Arkansas police working on a murder case?

Maybe. But Amazon twice declined to give police any information that Alexa may have overheard and recorded from the suspect’s Amazon Echo device.

The internet retail giant did give authorities account details and purchase information belonging to the suspect, James Andrew Bates, as Engadget reported, citing The Information. Bates has plead not guilty to the murder of Victor Collins and is out on bail.

The case raises questions about internet-connected devices at a time when their popularity is soaring.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Amazon shipped more of its Echo smart speakers than ever before – even underestimating demand and selling out before the big gift-giving day.

The Echo is operated by Alexa, the always on personal assistant that has seven microphones. To activate the Echo, a user says “Alexa,” a “wake word.”

But internet-of-thing devices like the Echo can be alerted to listen by accident. Stray “utterances” are stored on the cloud until a customer deletes them.

Kimberly Weber, Bates’ defense attorney said:

You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us.

Amazon said in a statement:

Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

Above: Amazon’s Echo. 

 

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  • saimin

    Why don’t the police ask a judge for a court subpoena? Are they afraid the court won’t grant it on constitutional grounds?

  • Jeff Safire

    There is much information – possibly not available – in this article. This “crime” occurred a year ago? Did the police just now ask Amazon for this data or, is it that we are now just hearing about it? That’s a huge difference. Because, if they did wait until now, although the Amazon data is most certainly still available, other data for timeline comparisons may not be.

 
 
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