If you have a smart speaker, you know how much easier they make your life. Whether you need them to set a timer, order some paper towels, or simply play music, these devices are undeniably convenient. They’re also becoming increasingly convenient to law enforcement.
According to Amazon, maker of the Alexa, the company received more than 3,000 requests for user data from police in the first six months of 2020. For the most part, they’re complying with these requests. About two-thirds of the time, they turn in the requested data. Data may include anything from how often you use your speaker to voice recordings.
Most apps warn users in their terms of service that they’ll hand your data over to law enforcement if it’s requested. To get the data, police must file a subpoena or search warrant and say what information they expect to find on your smart device. In criminal investigations, smart devices help investigators put together a timeline for alleged crimes.
Smart speakers aren’t the only way law enforcement is using new technology to solve cases. They’re also able to use smartwatches and smartphones during investigations. Then, they use information from all of those devices to put their evidence together. For example, a police investigating a case in Miami, Florida requested audio recordings from two Echo Dot speakers. They believe the recordings may provide clarity in the death of a murder victim killed in July.
If assisting police wasn’t indication enough, your smart speakers might not keep all of your private conversations so private. A new report from Northeastern University shows that smart speakers frequently activate on accident. When this happens, they may record unexpected audio throughout the day.
In this test, researchers found about half the recordings were six seconds or shorter. The bad news is that the other half of those recordings contained more than six seconds of audio. The longest recordings were 43 seconds. Worse still is that these recordings exist without the user’s consent or their knowledge.
These devices may become activated when you or even your television say something that sounds similar to your speaker’s trigger word. Once your speaker makes a recording, those recordings are kept on a server. After that, employees may review them in order to improve their voice recognition technology.
Though some people may be okay with their personal information being “out there” others have legitimate privacy concerns. Unfortunately, as it stands now, it’s up to consumers to take extra steps to protect their data and privacy.