business news in context, analysis with attitude

Add this to the list of issues that most people probably never thought about ... until technology created a new reality.

In Arkansas, a county prosecutor has served Amazon with a search warrant, demanding information from an Echo smart speaker that was owned by a man now suspected of murder.

As reported by CNN, "Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith hopes the voice-activated Echo - which answers users' questions, plays music, reads news and connects to other smart devices - will provide information on how a man came to be found dead in 31-year-old James Bates' hot tub.

"Bates' defense attorney, Kimberly Weber, says there is nothing useful on the device and applauds Amazon for protecting her client's privacy. Bates, who was arrested in February on suspicion of first-degree murder, is presently free on a $350,000 bond. A discovery hearing in his case is scheduled for March."

Amazon is resisting the warrant.

The CNN story says that the debate sets up "another legal battle over investigators' quest for technology-based evidence and American privacy rights ... As technology has become more and more integral to daily life, authorities have increasingly sought evidence from mobile phones, laptops, social media, even the Warcraft video game."

A GeekWire story offers more context:

"Police probably won’t get much from Alexa.  She listens all the time, but only records and transmits conversations after a 'wake word' is issued — usually, 'ALEXA.'  Echo gadgets hear the wake word, then transmit commands back to Amazon for language processing. Those recording are stored by Amazon, and can be viewed and deleted at any time by users (by visiting Police who heard the recording would probably only obtain a list of boring commands like, 'Tell me the weather' or 'Order me more toilet paper.'
"There is a small possibility that Amazon may know something more, however — and one can see why an enterprising detective would want to bring in Alexa for an 'interview.'

"As Echo users know, Alexa occasionally is awakened by mistake, and rudely shoves her way into conversations. There is a small chance that something useful to police might have been recorded by accident. (The chance is *really* small, because Alexa is trained to block out background noise, which presumably would even include the sound of a gruesome murder).

"There’s an even smaller chance that a suspect might have said out loud, 'Alexa…how do I murder someone in a hot tub?' That’s why this case is probably much ado about nothing."
KC's View:

Well, I guess I can add questions about how to commit murder to the list of things that I should not be asking Alexa.