What does Alexa know and will Amazon tell?

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Thursday, Dec 29, 2016

Did Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, hear something that could help Arkansas police working on a murder case? Maybe. But Amazon twice declined to give police any information that Alexa may have overheard and recorded from the suspect’s Amazon Echo device.

The internet retail giant did give authorities account details and purchase information belonging to the suspect, James Andrew Bates, as Engadget reported, citing The Information. Bates has plead not guilty to the murder of Victor Collins and is out on bail.

The case raises questions about internet-connected devices at a time when their popularity is soaring.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Amazon shipped more of its Echo smart speakers than ever before – even underestimating demand and selling out before the big gift-giving day.

The Echo is operated by Alexa, the always on personal assistant that has seven microphones. To activate the Echo, a user says “Alexa,” a “wake word.”

But internet-of-thing devices like the Echo can be alerted to listen by accident. Stray “utterances” are stored on the cloud until a customer deletes them.