Alexa – Did your owner murder someone?
In a case that raises some alarming questions about the Internet of Things, a police department in Arkansas has issued a warrant for the recordings from an Amazon Echo. The device, powered by Amazon's assistant, Alexa, might hold information vital to solving a murder case. But could a precedent so simple open the flood gates towards everyone being spied on?
The events surrounding the case occurred back in late 2015: The owner of an Amazon Echo allegedly drowned another man in his bathtub. The police apparently hope that the Echo was turned on and was streaming music, therefore likely listening and recording. The device, according to Amazon, only records data when its "wake word" is said.
Amazon has reportedly declined to hand over the information so far, saying they wouldn't do it “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.” Is it appropriate when a murder case could be solved with that data? Maybe.
But it's also very scary and raises a number of questions that have been on the back of many minds surrounding the smart home and the IoT. When is the line between controlling your personal data and being forced to hand it over crossed? Is it worth it to have a device that enhances our quality of life, but could also be storing information we don't want to be stored?
The Amazon Echo case is reminiscent of one that happened not too long ago when the FBI wanted Apple to give them access to an iPhone. But they also wanted a backdoor for future cases. In the next few years, many precedents will be set regarding our personal data. We, as consumers, should keep a close watch on those precedents. Because they will determine how we use technology in the future.
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