Amazon's Alexa is being summoned to court after a nasty double murder. Prosecutors in the case in New Hampshire believe the voice assistant may have clues that could help solve the crime.
The idea is simple: Alexa, the AI that feeds Amazon Echo speakers, has to hear a word of alert. When it says "Alexa," the audio from the device's microphone is sent to Amazon for processing.
This allows Amazon cloud servers to analyze the commands and send the appropriate response to your speaker.
If Alexa is activated during the crime, then the audio may help provide evidence of the suspect's guilt or innocence.
However, Alexa does not continuously transmit the audio back to Amazon, so it is necessary for any evidence to occur while the device was listening, which is indicated by a fixed blue light on the top of the speaker.
Amazon takes the security of this audio very seriously. Users can reproduce their own command history through the Alexa application and delete it whenever they want, but Amazon won't release it without a valid court order.
The judge in this case has issued exactly that, but Amazon has not yet responded. The company always gives the same answer: "Amazon does not disclose customer information without a valid and binding legal claim that we are poisoned correctly."
In the past, cases like these have been based on the device's owner giving permission to the police to download the data.
In 2015, James Bates was charged with the murder of Victor Collins in Arkansas, at Bates' house. The police took her Echo speaker and demanded that Amazon deliver the recordings.
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Amazon initially refused, but gave in when Bates gave his consent. In 2017, the police abandoned that case against James Bates, so maybe Alexa helped prove his innocence.
It is clearly important that Amazon protect this confidential data whenever possible. In order for the public to accept the idea of virtual assistants, they have to trust that their personal data is safe, and Amazon does not deliver it without fighting.