Well, this didn’t take long. This Amazon Echo contraption has only been ordering pizza, shoes, demolition cord, Uber rides, autogyro rides, and aged cheese for just a few months. Now it’s already being asked to solve a murder. No pressure little cylinder dude.
Apple at least got to wait a few years before being blamed by the Feds for allowing terrorists to potentially raid a nursery by refusing to give up iPhone data. Amazon didn’t get any such grace period. Nor will any other technology company / invention I suspect.
The background here is pretty simple. Amazon has data, government wants data in the hopes it can help solve crimes, Amazon (citing privacy) refuses to give up data. How can the Echo do this you ask? Why just let the BBC tell you, the Echo:
The “always on” machine makes recordings of audio it hears from a fraction of a second before it detects a wake word – either Alexa or Amazon – until it judges the command to be over.
This audio is then transmitted to Amazon’s computer servers, which interpret the request and tell it how to respond.
Although no recordings are meant to be made at other times, the device often becomes activated when it misinterprets speech as being its wake command.
So basically what we have here is it’s become clearer that yes indeed, the Echo is in fact a live listening device that folks (for whatever reason) have installed in their own home. So when the following things occur, the Echo is listening and potentially recording:
1) You get murdered in your own home
2) Your dogs hijack your internet while you’re at work to purchase more kibble behind your back
3) You say or do intimate things with your significant other
4) You and your kids get in a fight
5) You comment to another human how tasty a meal is
6) You express all your hopes and wildest dreams to another human, your dogs, or an inanimate object such as a painting, piece of artwork, or stuffed animal
7) Aliens kidnap you, repurpose your home’s guest bedroom, and make you write regularly for a shitty blog
8) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your boss, the one who employs you and pays your bills
9) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your family, the ones who love you and cherish your existence
10) You say (offhand) to your significant other that you’d punch Jeff Bezos in the face and neck, if you met him randomly on the street
In order to conduct its basic functions, why does the Echo even need to store anything on Amazon’s servers (Amazon Web Services)? That the cops could later get a warrant for? Even if the Echo needs to talk to Amazon’s servers to best interpret your audio request, why do they store the data for the long term?
Because by storing everything you say on their servers they can run programs to mass analyze what you and everybody else said. They’ll then use the algorithm output to find better ways to sell you stuff. It’s not about privacy. If it was about privacy, Amazon would morally never collect and store things you say in your own home on its private servers. They want your money.
I’m not saying Amazon should go ahead and hand it over to the Feds, don’t get me wrong. The government is among the most egregious and worst violators of your privacy there is. Your local sheriff probably has the power to look up your favorite beer if he so chose.
But I do have a problem with Amazon (or any other company) waving the privacy flag in defense, when in reality the six biggest violators of privacy on the planet are Google, Apple, the NSA, Facebook, the KGB, and Amazon. Not necessarily in that order.
Know your risk. I use Google’s products almost every day. But I understand they’re data hounds. So I hedge my risks as best as I can. I knowingly accept some of the badness. For example, did you know if you’re logged into Gmail that every other piece of browsing activity you’re doing is logged on Google’s servers? So if you’re checking e-mail (on any browser type) and then tab over to search for directions to Hitler’s death house, Google will know and log it. It is for this reason that I will check my Gmail, then actually log out and close the browser, before I do any other web related activity. There are also cookie and history deletion methods I regularly execute with Google.
I’ll never do this Echo thing for any reason. I don’t need Amazon in my living room. If for whatever bizarre factor you need an Echo in your already overly complicated life, okay, I guess. Just be sure you know the intricate details of how that thing works and how you manage your data. For as it stands, it seems the basic default settings of this snoop cylinder are insane. Amazon is a witness to your life and death.
One day, I’m going to come back home from work, and there’ll be an Echo on my dining table. I didn’t buy it, nobody broke into my house, it’ll just be there. I will then club it with a bat, grab my dogs and some canned goods, and run for the hills.