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Alexa - Privacy is as Risk

Updated on November 17, 2018
Pamela99 profile image

I'm interested in social issues, good relationships, problems of daily living, jobs and advances for safer living conditions for many years.

Artificial Intelligence

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Benefits of Owning Alexa or Echo Dot

The Alexa was developed by Amazon along with Echo Dot. It is a type of computerized virtual assistant that is a cloud-based voice service. The Echo Dot is a speaker that may be attached to Alexa, and you can even give it a command while it is playing your choice of music. It has become very popular over the past few years.

The Echo Dot actually records your voice so it can process your requests. The voice recordings are transferred to a processor for analysis, then they are streamed and stored. They can be reviewed or deleted. There is typically some particular wake words that begins the recording process.

By building a natural voice experience you can tell Alexa to play specific songs by requesting the artist, the song title or a specific genre. It will give you the latest news, weather, sports scores or other general information. You can also set it up to control a smart home, so you can say “Alexa, turn on the light” or “Alexa, put the garage door down.” Alexa also provides entertainment with games, or it will make a phone call for you. The Alexa uses an intuitive method for people to interact with technology.

Amazon Echo Dot

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True Account of a Recorded Conversation

In Portland, Oregon, a private conversation between a husband and wife was recorded by Alexa in 2016. Amazon was forced to explain how an Alexa Echo was able to record this private conversation and send it to another Echo user without their knowledge.The other person was an employee of the husbands.

According to an Amazon employee the “Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like Alexa.” Somehow in the subsequent conversation Alexa said “To whom?” Alexa interpreted the background conversation as naming an individual in the couple’s customer contact list. Therefore, Alexa sent the private conversation to that contact, which was unknown by the couple.

The Amazon spokesperson stated that this incident actually took place, but he stated this was unusual. The Alexa followed what it thought was commands, but the couple assumed they were talking privately. The couple did not intend to send the conversation to anyone. Amazon is looking at options to make this particular case unlikely to happen in the future.

First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Alexa Used in a Criminal Case

In a current murder case in Arkansas the recordings from the Alexa Echo smart speaker recordings were requested as evidence, and turned over last week. The defendant’s Echo was seized at the crime scene, but the recordings are actually stored on Amazon servers. The Arkansas murder suspect is accused of killing his friend who was found dead in the spa after a night of drinking and football.

Initially the online retailer rebuffed the request, but ultimately they voluntarily turned over the recordings. Amazon provided the recordings to the prosecutors. However, the Amazon lawyers tried to quash the request for the search warrant and wrote "Given the important First Amendment and privacy implications at stake, the warrant should be quashed unless the Court finds that the State has met its heightened burden for compelled production of such materials."

Can Amazon's Alexa help solve a murder?

New Hampshire Murder Case

A judge in New Hampshire ordered Amazon to give two days of Alexa Echo recordings in a double murder case. Two women were murdered in a home in January 2017. Again, the police confiscated the Echo and stated they had probable cause for the audio recordings as they may have captured the attack or events leading up to the attack. Additionally, they directed Amazon to turn over any “information identifying any cellular devices that were linked to the smart speaker during that time period.”

Impact of These Cases

Perhaps technology has moved along faster than the law. On a personal note my husband and I are retired. We get constant phone calls concerning Medicare insurance and back or knee braces. I know most people are dealing with nuance phone calls, and they are frustrating. It seems our personal information is not private.

There are cameras everywhere: on city streets, some cities have cameras on red lights and many homes have outside cameras. The facts are we no not have as much privacy as we once had.

Amazon Echo Dot Top 5 Uses

Impact of These Cases

Perhaps technology has moved along faster than the law. On a personal note my husband and I are retired. We get constant phone calls concerning Medicare insurance and back or knee braces. I know most people are dealing with nuance phone calls, and they are frustrating. It seems our personal information is not private.

There are cameras everywhere: on city streets, some cities have cameras on red lights and many homes have outside cameras. The facts are we no not have as much privacy as we once had.

Brain Overload

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Use Your Imagination

This is a fictional scenario. Let’s say a woman finds out her husband is cheating on her, and she is so angry she wants payback. She might have her husband’s voice on a voicemail. She could play that in the background and scream something, “No, Tom, don’t hit me again.” She could break a glass and turn over a chair. She might use something to create some bruises or even a cut. Alexa would record the whole thing, and the wife could say she was abused. The Alexa could be proof.

This may be far fetched, however, using recordings could be a slippery slope.

In Summary

According to Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a Senior Staff Technologist for the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, "The code in that device is under the control of Amazon, and it's basically up to Amazon (not to the owner of the device) to make sure that it's not transmitting to the cloud," he said. "Clearly, Amazon isn't making those decisions correctly all the time."

Our daily lives are constantly intertwined with technology today. The requests from police and prosecutors are constantly increasing and now includes requests for evidence from laptops, mobile phones, social media and even the “Warcraft” video game has been used. This trend will surely increase as police and prosecutors want all available evidence of a crime.

© 2018 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

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  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Ann, Yes, I agree with the cameras on the streets also. I just wanted to make the point that our privacy can be comprimised. I would hope Amazon fixes their problems. I appreciate your comments.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    2 weeks ago from SW England

    Very interesting Pamela. Tricky dilemma, the privacy thing. I agree with cameras on the streets because crimes can be nipped in the bud but for the general innocent public they can be a worry. There is such a fine balance.

    However, Amazon should fix that particular hiccup on their system asap. After all it was designed as an aid for the home not a security device in itself.

    Great that you've brought this to our attention!

    Ann

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Paula, I think there are some good things that can be done using Alexa, but I don't like the privacy issue. I appreciate your comments. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving also.

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 

    2 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Pamela......I really need to get out more! I only recently learned of who & what ":Alexa," is. My son gave me all the info. All I could think is that this may be something useful in an office for certain businesses, but in your home? I can't see that and surely wouldn't need or want Alexa to move in!! Peace and enjoy today's special occasion of Thanksgiving! Paula

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for stopping by. I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving day as well.

    Hugs to you,

    Pam

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    2 weeks ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Dear Pam,

    No thanks to the "Alexa" - I agree with the comments shared here.

    Wishing you and yours a peaceful and healthy Thanksgiving.

    Hugs,

    Maria

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Shauna, Even without video some courts are accepting therecordings., but I do wonder if it is accurate. Did someone say something out of anger, but not really something they intended to co? I just dobt know, but I don't want one either, not that we are committing any crimes!

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    3 weeks ago from Central Florida

    I'm glad I don't have one of these things in my home. I'm sure they'd come in handy in investigating crime, but without video, I don't really see how credible the information would be, as demonstrated in your fictional scenario, Pamela.

    As far as owning one of these devices, I'm not so lazy that I can't get up and do the things users ask Alexa to do for them.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Linda, My feeling about owning Alexa are the same as yours, Thanks for your comments.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Peggy's comment sums up my feelings. The Alexa is certainly interesting, but I don't want one in my home because of privacy concerns. Thanks for discussing some interesting points about the device, Pamela.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I think most of us aren't doing anything illegal anyway, but it is the idea our conversations are kept in the Amazon cloud that bothers me. I do think any problem is rare, but I wanted to inform people that there are court cases that have pulled the information from Amazon. I appreciate your comments.

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    3 weeks ago from Minnesota

    Hi Pamela-My sister & I have an Echo Dot and an Echo Tap. So far so good but I have heard of these stories where police have come to peoples' doors because of something the Echo Heard. I think it's rare but I understand how it can misunderstand words or hear words that wake her up.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Peggy, That is a good analogy. We do have Big Brother ever present. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

    I have thought about the privacy concerns of owning one of those devices. I doubt that we will ever purchase one. Big Brother is ever present in our lives. No sense in giving him a key to our door willingly.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Lorelei, You make an excellent point concerning hackers. This is just the way it is today. Thanks for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Pop, I know people that love their Alexa, but I was disturbed by the idea of conversations recorded somewhere. Thanks for stopping in.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Bill, No, you are not a conspiracy nut today! I think it is scary to know how much we are watched. I always appreciate your insight.

  • Lady Lorelei profile image

    Lorelei Cohen 

    3 weeks ago from Canada

    Smart technology is indeed rather frightening in regards to our security. Although Alexa's error was a self contained one the issue of hackers is constant. There is always someone somewhere who wants your information and will do anything they can to get it. Smart technology makes it easier.

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 

    3 weeks ago

    I know you are right, but I love using Alexa to create lists. I may have to rethink the whole thing.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

    It is my suspicion, Pamela, that most of the population would be quite happy not knowing how much they are under a watchful eye on any given day. Big Brother is watching constantly. Fifty years ago I would have felt like a conspiracy nut saying that. Not today!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    John, I agree, and I think there are many people like both of us that value our privacy. I appreciate you sharing your views.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    Flourish, I didn't even think about OnStar, and you are right about no privacy. That is the point of this article as the idea that everything you say is stored in a cloud somewhere distresses me. There is no Echo Dot or Alexa in our home. Thanks for your comments.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    3 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

    Pamela, I see this all as potential quite concerning. I doubt I would ever consider ever getting Alexa, Echo Dot or the other similar technology available. I know our privacy is already compromised in a lot of ways....and although these have a lot of benefits I value my privacy too much.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    3 weeks ago from USA

    There is no privacy anymore. With the OnStar and similar services in vehicles I wonder who is listening in. Apparently even if you whack something at 5 mph the service I have will activate and ask if you’re ok. Then to have it in your home. Makes you wonder where you have to go to not be watched or heard.

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