Amazon has spent Christmas plugging the heck out of the Echo. And to be fair, the speaker, which is connected to your Amazon account and recognizes your voice, can be incredibly useful provided you don’t put it near a Google Home. But it turns out the always-on nature of the device means it’s about to wind up on the witness stand.
Police in Bentonville, AR, recently issued a warrant to Amazon over the murder case of Victor Collins. Specifically, they were looking for any data that the Echo recorded during that time, including audio, and are pairing that data with other information from the home of Collins’ alleged murderer to assemble a timeline of events and prove the state’s case. The question, of course, is whether the suspect’s own gadgets can be ordered to rat him out, something his attorney is fighting vigorously.
But it does also raise other questions. Data from our devices is not as reliable as marketing copy pretends: The murder case at the center of Serial may collapse because the prosecution misrepresented the accuracy of the data they used to place Adnan Syed at the scene of the crime. It also begs the question, if the Echo can overhear a murder, just what else it might be overhearing. After all, while many of us commit no crimes in our homes, many of us also don’t want every last thing we say and do recorded, either. Similarly, it’s worth asking, in an era where poor information security can change the course of elections, what protections we have against fabricated data being inserted into our personal devices. Amazon, and other “smart home” tech companies, might soon find themselves figuring out just how much of what they offer is convenience, and how much surveillance.