We all know that smart devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home are constantly listening to what we say. Also, to everything going on around them. If we do not know it for sure, we are all at least suspecting they do. Now, it seems like this feature might become useful even for the police. The authorities in Bentonville, Arkansas have asked Amazon through a warrant to hand them every audio data from a specific Echo. What it may have recorded could potentially help solve a murder case.
Amazon Echo, the witness
It all started in November 2015 when a suspect named James Andrew Bates was charged with first-degree murder. At the time, the Bentonville police found the body of Victor Collins choked and drowned in Bates’s hot tub. The suspect told the authorities that during that night he, along with three other friends, watched a football game together at his place. However, he decided to go to sleep at around 1 p.m. When he woke up, he reportedly found Collins in his tub, already dead. The problem is that his story is not the same as the other friends’ story. The police records are stating that during that night, Bates also texted and called various numbers, but he said that those calls were completely accidental.
However, Bates did not take into consideration the fact that his smart home devices might have heard something that could be used against him. His Amazon Echo could have supposedly controlled the music during that night and also record whatever was going on inside the house. Still, there might be a problem. According to Amazon, the Echo does not record anything and the owner needs to say the so-called “wake word” in order for the device to react. In conclusion, the Echo must probably did not record anything from that night. Amazon also refused to give the police any audio data. Still, they seized the Amazon Echo from Bates home, as proof. The case is supposed to go to trial in early 2017, so we might soon find out what really happened there and what did the Amazon Echo record.
How much can they listen to?
The Echo has a button which you can press if you do not want the device to listen to what is going on. Also, any recording can be erased from its memory. The same goes for Google Home. Still, there is no way for a customer to tell if the device is really not listening continuously. This case might be the first of its kind, but it is sure to raise some eyebrows in what concerns the clients’ home security. This issue also concerns smartphones, tablets and earphones (as it was recently discovered).
Then there is the question of “how much is too much?”. If this theory proves to be true and devices are really listening to everything, they might soon become the police’s main ally when it comes to criminal cases. This would mean that they are also instruments of mass surveillance. Conspiracy theorists have talked about those for quite some time now.
For now, it is still uncertain what are we buying and placing in our homes. According to Amazon, their Echo and mini Echo are their best-selling devices this year.
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