A popular voice-activated device is in the middle of a debate over privacy because of its ability to record verbal commands. Now police in Arkansas are seeking access to that data from Amazon, it’s manufacturer.
The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are digital home assistants, that when voice-activated by the user keyword of Alexa – come to life.
“If you say the name Alexa, it captures that audio wave and starts listening to whatever you want to ask it,” said Eric Markert.
Markert, service manager at Computer World in Appleton, says these devices also record bits of those interactions which are stored on Amazon’s servers.
“Primarily so they can evaluate the recordings and make sure the device is hearing what we actually say, so that it responds appropriately,” said Markert.
Now police in Arkansas are trying to get the voice-history recordings from an Echo recovered in the home of this man, 31-year-old James Bates, who was arrested after the body of a man was found in his home in November of 2015.
His lawyer calls the demands an invasion of privacy.
“That information is meant to stay private and to use it to take an innocent man and charge him with these crimes in an anomaly,” said Attorney Kimberly Weber.
Markert says the Echo is always listening for the keyword. Yet sometimes – as he’s discovered as an owner – the device activates accidentally.
“It randomly will respond even though we haven’t asked it to do anything,” Markert said.
Police say those recordings are evidence. They’ve asked Amazon for the data.
So far the company has said no issuing this statement which says “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand.”
But one information security professor says this is not the last time privacy and technology will meet in a courtroom
“Amazon will face more requests like this in the years to come because these devices are so popular,” said Shannon McMurry.