Privacy in the 21st century

This bears watching:

In what may be a first, police in Arkansas asked Amazon for recordings potentially made by an Echo device in connection with a murder investigation. Amazon declined to provide the data.

As Echo currently works it keeps less than 60 seconds of sound internally and only sends recordings to the cloud (Amazons servers do the voice recognition) after you get it’s attention with the word “Alexa”. This is probably an acceptable tradeoff for most people.

Still, it is easy to imagine government mandates for “updates” to selected users which enable the devices to send continuous sound to law enforcement. And of course the same could be said of any other sound or video recognition devices in your home such as Xbox.


4 thoughts on “Privacy in the 21st century

  1. I recall, back in the 1960s or ’70s, there was the notion being bandied about that “they” were spying on you through your television. One guy I knew didn’t keep a TV around, for that stated reason. Given that, now, all our devices are two-way, and have cameras and microphones in them, at what point does (or did) that “paranoid suspicion” become un-crazy?

    As kids, the Catholics drummed into our heads to be ever-fearful of God watching us all the time, presumeably so we’d behave ourselves purely out of fear. So who is this god-person, or the god wannabes, now? It is the same idea, no?

  2. As an aside, I can say with certainty that you should fear for your life if you were to propose confiscating the Amazon Echo from some mobility-impaired people.
    We had a long discussion on the privacy aspects of having Alexa evesdrop on us. The consensus was that we weren’t worried and Alexa would be put to sleep if we decided to hypothetically talk about commiting a crime.

  3. It’s hard to be sure what’s real in this story. I’ve heard it claimed that Amazon has the audio, but doesn’t want to release it. If so, that’s unlikely to stand in the face of a warrant. But if that’s true, I expect Alexa to vanish from the market very quickly once this becomes known. The reason such products are accepted is that people don’t think their voices are recorded and saved. If they find out otherwise they’ll stop buying.
    Of course, companies such as Amazon could fix this easily by not saving the audio (and making a believable case that they aren’t). At that point, the answer to such a warrant becomes easy: “we don’t have that information”.

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