When you walk around an office building, you can easily spot all the people that have watched the movie, Snowden. They are the ones with items stuck over the camera on their PC to block the NSA (or other agencies and individuals) from spying on their activities.

We might think this only applies to the particularly paranoid in our society but there is a murderer in the New Hampshire area who wishes that it was only science fiction. Two women were murdered in a Farmington home where an Amazon Echo smart home device was sitting as an innocent bystander in the kitchen. Prosecutors believe that recordings stored on Amazon’s servers may deliver the final clues to convict the person charged with the crime.

At first glance it would appear that a suspected murderer will be convicted with the help of technology.

Ignore this case for a moment and think of the wider consequences. There are over thirty million Amazon Echo devices in the US alone (plus other brands of similar devices). I have an Amazon Echo sitting in my home along with a Google Home device. How many people are aware of the privacy implications of having a simple electronic gadget sitting in their home? Very few people would be aware that their cute little smart speaker that tells them the news and weather and maybe a funny joke is also listening – and recording – what is happening in their house?

Amazon publishes a biannual transparency report detailing the number of warrants and orders it receives across the entire business but the company refuses to break down how many requests it receives for Echo data specifically.

Most of the smart speaker manufacturers have no process in place to publish transparency reports and have no plans to publish one in the future. That leaves you and I in the dark as to how these companies protect personal information when requests are made.

In the case of the New Hampshire murders, Amazon has said that they will not ever release information without a valid and binding legal demand that is properly served. The first question I would then ask would be related to which jurisdiction. Some countries may allow a legal demand somewhat easier than other countries.

Throughout my technological life. I have often seen technology change way too quickly for laws to keep up. This may be yet another example of governments and laws needing to quickly catch up.

The old argument is, of course, that if I am doing nothing wrong then I have nothing to hide. Sure, I have no plans to commit a crime therefore I am not worried if the Police listen to my conversations. There are deeper concerns though. What if I ask my wife for our banking password when sitting down at dinner one night. She reminds me of the password. Someone who shouldn’t be allowed to have access to Amazon’s data suddenly can hear our banking password and our accounts are drained that night! Yes, I am missing a few steps along the way and I am taking it to extremes but the New Hampshire murder case is one that I believe will make people sit back and think about those technological devices sitting around their home. It might be the thin edge of the wedge – or just people being paranoid – but, if nothing else, by reading this column you are now at least aware.

So do we throw out all of our technology in the pursuit of privacy? Given my love of technology, I would find this solution difficult. Continue to use technology to make your life better but just be aware of what may be happening behind the scenes. Amazon is not only listening, but recording…

Mathew Dickerson

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