Is Amazon Echo’s Alexa secretly recording everything that happens in your home and reporting it to Amazon? The police say “Yes”. They have subpoenaed Amazon in a murder investigation for Echo’s data, and Amazon has refused to comply. What is Amazon afraid of?
Victor Collins was murdered in the hot tub of James Bates on the Night of November 22, 2015. Bentonville Arkansas police think that the Amazon Echo device in the home may have heard and recorded the event. Amazon refuses to confirm or deny the possibility.
That is a very strange assumption on the part of the police. The Amazon Echo is just supposed to answer your questions when you begin a sentence with the word “Alexa.” Something like “Alexa. What is the temperature?”. Amazon has never mentioned anything about Echo keeping permanent records, or even doing anything unless the magic word “Alexa” is spoken.
So why doesn’t Amazon just say to the police, “We can’t help you. Our device does not record what happens in people’s homes and we don’t have any such records.” Instead, Amazon has refused answer any questions about Echo’s capability.
You do not have to be paranoid to wonder what Amazon is trying to hide. If, in fact, the Amazon Echo can help solve the murder, then that would mean that those friendly devices are actually recording everything in your home 24/7. It also means permanent records are being kept. In 1984, George Orwell thought the television set would be doing that job. It turns out instead, that a cute little cylinder nicknamed “Alexa” is doing the task.
Victor Collins and some other men spent the evening watching football at Bates’ home. Bates claimed that he went to bed early and Collins and the other guys stayed late. The next morning Collins was dead in the outdoor hot tub. At first, it was assumed he had been drunk and drowned. However, an autopsy showed that he had been strangled and forcefully held underwater until he died. Forensics also showed that a hose had been used to wash blood off the deck near the hot tub.
Police have already been successful with some computer evidence in the murder. Victor Collins’ house was equipped with a “smart water meter”, which electronically records how much water is used and when. This smart meter showed that on the night of the murder a large amount of water was used in the middle of the night. This could be consistent with someone hosing blood off the deck around the hot tub.
Amazon is in the ultimate “lose-lose” scenario. If they admit they can help, then they are telling people world-wide that Amazon has been secretly recording every private moment in their homes. If Amazon continues to stonewall, they could be helping a murderer go free just to save their corporate bottom line.
Of course, this could just be the opening of the floodgates. If Alexa can “testify” in a murder case, what about divorce proceedings or child custody hearings? Will Brad Pitt subpoena the Amazon Echo in the home he used to share with Angelina Jolie? She says Brad was a bad parent. Could he use the Amazon Echo recordings to show he was always nice and kind to the kids?
We certainly do not mean to make light of this. In all the theoretical discussions about what Amazon should do, the forgotten man is the murder victim Victor Collins. He suffered a terrible death with someone grabbing him by the neck and holding him under hot water until life left him. Amazon should help the suffering of his family by coming clean and telling the world what Alexa does or does not know.
So in 2017, the Sci-Fi future Orwell warned us about has fully arrived. If you have some deep secret you need to share, don’t mention it near your computerized friend. You can’t trust her.