What does Alexa knows and will Amazon tell?

Dec 29, 2016, 00:30
What does Alexa knows and will Amazon tell?

The voice-controlled assistant, star of the Echo smart speaker but increasingly spreading to other connected devices, has become the unexpected informant in an Arkansas murder investigation set to go to trial come 2017.

The issue emerged in the slaying of Victor Collins, who was found floating face-up previous year in the hot tub at a friend's home in Bentonville, about 150 miles northwest of Little Rock.

The victim, Victor Collins, was found dead in Bates' hot tub after a night of drinking.

The biggest surprise, though, continues to be the Amazon Echo - the family of smart speakers that, along with its Alexa voice assistant, has steadily put Amazon in a leading position within the Internet of Things and the burgeoning consumer market for artificial intelligence.

Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall declined to comment specifically on the Arkansas case but said in a statement that the company "will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand". The company did not provide the data, but gave police Bates' Amazon account details and purchase records instead.

Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker launched past year.

James Bates' trial is now scheduled for 2017.

To date, Amazon has not complied with the request. One of the major sources of attaining evidence is the Amazon Echo which was present at the murder suspect's home. McDonald, in contradicting the affidavit said he left Bates and Collins around 12:30 a.m., his story was corroborated by his wife who proved his alibi. But sometimes, the Echo wakes up when it thinks it's heard "Alexa", inserting itself into the middle of a conversation. It's a familiar concern: How cellphones are used to track people and whether seizing certain information on them is legal has been taken up by various courts. In the meantime, it may behoove you to watch what you say around your Echo. The device sends your command to cloud servers, where your speech is interpreted and a response is sent back through the device. Those recordings are logged and stored through Amazon's Alexa app.

The warrant served to Amazon said the device, which has been seized as evidence, could contain information relevant to the case.

"The myth we must fight against with Echo is that it's constantly listening in on you - it's not". Each home in Bentonville was on a smart meter, police were told, to measure and record the exact consumption of electricity and water every hour. Amazon, Pearsall added, objects to "overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course". "The more you use Alexa, the more she adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences".

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