Voice activated assistances such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming popular household devices. With a simple voice command these devices can allow you to do anything from turning on your smart lightbulbs to playing music. However, any voice activated device must necessarily be listening at all times and law enforcers know that:
Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.
Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access.
While Amazon declined to provide any server side information logged by the Echo there’s no reason a court order couldn’t compel Amazon to provide such information. In addition to that, law enforcers also managed to pull some unknown data locally from the Echo. Those two points raise questions about what kind of information devices like the Echo and Home collect as they’re passively sitting on your counter awaiting your command.
As with much of the Internet of Things, I haven’t purchased one of these voice activated assistances yet and have no plans to buy one anytime in the near future. They’re too big of a privacy risk for my tastes since I don’t even know what kind of information they’re collecting as they sit there listening.