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Police Ask: Alexa, Who Did It?


Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, A recent murder case is becoming newsworthy. Police asked for private information that may or may not have been captured by Amazon’s Echo, also known as “Alexa.”

Law enforcement agents from Bentonville, Arkansas asked Amazon to turn over to them audio and other records from an Echo digital assistant that was present in the home of James Andrew Bates, who has been charged with killing a man by the name of Victor Collins; Collins’ body was found in Bates’ hot tub at the location where the Echo was located.

Bates’ attorney argues. “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,” defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there is also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

According to AP, James Bates pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Victor Collins. In a filing last week, Bates said Amazon could share the information. The company has handed Alexa recording data over to police after the defendant gave his permission.

As a refresher, Echo only captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears the wake word “Alexa.” A ring on the top of the device turns blue to give a visual indication that audio is being recorded. Those clips are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually or all at once.  In the meantime, keep in mind that any information recorded about you by any phone, tablet, cloud service, car, voice-controlled system, or other smart device, may be transmitted to a third party and could ultimately be subject to government inspection.

Written by

Amir Arres has been the Editor in Chief of Dataism since November 2015. He directs its strategy and development. He has a background in Data Analysis and a BA in Business Decision Making. Amir is interested in how new thinking from Big Data challenges conventional ways of understanding knowledge and culture. His vision for Dataism is to create a sanctuary online for bold and nuanced ideas.