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Police want to probe Amazon Echo, as a murder 'witness'

by Mark Tyson on 28 December 2016, 13:01

Tags: Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)

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Following a murder in Bentonville, Arkansas, police are very interested in what, if anything, was overheard by an Amazon Echo device at the home of the accused. It is known that the device was used on the night of the murder and it is thought that Amazon might have data from the night in question stored on its servers. However, Amazon has declined requests to share any such information with authorities.

James Andrew Bates has been charged with first degree murder in a case dubbed 'The Hot Tub Murder'. On the eve of 22nd November 2015 Bates is accused of killing Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates' hot tub.

According to reports, the two had been drinking and watching football with two other friends. One of the party went home to sleep, while Bates and another of his friends slept in the house where the crime is alleged to have taken place. Collins remained in the hot tub after the others had retired, and died during the night. However Collins' death definitely wasn't an accident or from natural causes: the police say he was strangled, with drowning as a secondary cause of death…

IoT witnesses

Mr Bates had several smart connected devices operating in his home that night. First of all, Bates is accused of tampering with the scene of the crime as his smart water meter recorded that 140 gallons of water were used between 1am and 3am, the estimated time of the murder.

Secondly the Amazon Echo, a device that is 'always listening' for voice commands, was used by the accused to play music the night of the murders so was active and listening for new commands for at least some of that evening.

Naturally the police want to get their hands on any data that was stored by Amazon cloud services from that evening. Perhaps it recorded some sounds of an argument or similar altercation that preceded the murder of Collins. So far Amazon has denied such access "Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course," said Amazon spokesperson Kinley Pearsall, in an email to Fortune.

Even if Amazon is pressured enough to release any such information it might not be usable in court. Legally such recordings, made without consent, might not be admissible in court. Lawyers will have to sift though relevant state and federal laws and relevant Amazon Echo privacy T&Cs if some information does get prized from Amazon's cloud service.

Bates is currently out on bail with a trial date set for next year.



HEXUS Forums :: 24 Comments

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I'm not surprised Amazon are being hard-nosed about this, and I'd be rather surprised if they didn't fight this all the way.

After all, so far they (and other tech companies) have been VERY coy about exactly what they do record, and store, and in what detail and for how long, let alone why they do so and what they use it for. It seems to me that the notion of detailed recordings of what goes on in our homes, and very possibly in intimate areas of our homes, could be the kiss of death to these products.

I'd be VERY surprised if Amazon, or any simikar company, wanted to start getting into details of what they store, and why they store it.

After all, if I ask Alexa to play ABBAs 10 greatest hits, it's bad enough that Amazon record and retain that request at all, beyond the time needed to fulfil the instruction, but if it turns out they retain voice recordings for protracted periods ….. ?

This whole area is a PR and privacy rights minefield, but what was certain, as certain as night follows day, is that once these devices started shipping, sooner or later this situation was going to crop up, and Amazon pretty much have to fight it tooth and claw.

Besides, if the party line (as with MS Kinect) is that until you get Alexa's (or Kinect, etc) attention with “hey Alexa” it shouldn't be recording ANYTHING …. should it?

Or does it?
It's listening all of the time, so hacked or authority cooperating, sound could be being captured.
I wouldn't put it past Amazon Echo or Google Home to permanently listen in and capture to improve their marketing data.
Remove all doubt and just get the Chinese Ling Long Ding Dong.
Saracen
I'm not surprised Amazon are being hard-nosed about this, and I'd be rather surprised if they didn't fight this all the way.

After all, so far they (and other tech companies) have been VERY coy about exactly what they do record, and store, and in what detail and for how long, let alone why they do so and what they use it for. It seems to me that the notion of detailed recordings of what goes on in our homes, and very possibly in intimate areas of our homes, could be the kiss of death to these products.

I'd be VERY surprised if Amazon, or any simikar company, wanted to start getting into details of what they store, and why they store it.

After all, if I ask Alexa to play ABBAs 10 greatest hits, it's bad enough that Amazon record and retain that request at all, beyond the time needed to fulfil the instruction, but if it turns out they retain voice recordings for protracted periods ….. ?

This whole area is a PR and privacy rights minefield, but what was certain, as certain as night follows day, is that once these devices started shipping, sooner or later this situation was going to crop up, and Amazon pretty much have to fight it tooth and claw.

Besides, if the party line (as with MS Kinect) is that until you get Alexa's (or Kinect, etc) attention with “hey Alexa” it shouldn't be recording ANYTHING …. should it?

Or does it?

That would be easy to test though, just by using a packet sniffer on the network the echo or dot is connected to, so if it was recording everything, its a fair chance that would have been detected by now.

That said, Im pretty sure Amazon - just as Google stores search requests - Amazon will store and analyse voce requests for targeted marketing purposes, as they do for searches on their website.
I didn't realise people were so lazy just to press a button. People need to get off their bums(if they can) not find more creative ways of sitting down.
we just got an echo. It's rubbish. Drops wifi all the time - paritcularly if you mute the mic for a long period. Suggests to me it isn't sending everything you do to amazon when it's muted, otherwise it would be preserving the wifi link.