Police in Bentonville, Ark., reportedly have asked the Seattle e-commerce giant for data recorded by an Echo belonging to a man charged with murder. The news was reported by The Information, a subscription-based tech news website.
Amazon.com is being asked to play a part in solving an investigation in an Arkansas slaying that may involve its Echo voice-activated speaker.
It’s the latest sign of how voice-enabled artificial intelligence is becoming enmeshed in the fabric of daily life — even in its most sordid aspects.
It’s also an interesting case study on how an information-rich environment may change police procedures and trigger new privacy battles among customers, tech companies and authorities.
Police in Bentonville, Ark. — coincidentally, the hometown of Amazon archrival Wal-Mart — reportedly have asked the Seattle e-commerce giant for data recorded by an Echo belonging to a suspect in a slaying. The news was reported by The Information, a subscription-based tech news website.
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The alleged strangulation of Victor Collins, who was found dead in a hot tub in the house of a friend, took place in November last year, according to local news reports. The friend, James Bates, was arrested and later charged with murder earlier this year. Bates also owned an Echo device, which, when activated, sends voice data to the cloud.
It’s unclear whether that particular Echo may have recorded something suspicious. After all, while the device listens all the time, it sends data up to the cloud only when it hears a wake-up word, such as “Alexa” or “Echo.” But it can be accidentally activated by similar sounding words.
An Amazon spokeswoman said she couldn’t talk about the specific case, but added that the company “will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”
“Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course,” the spokeswoman said.
Bentonville police on Tuesday said it won’t be able to answer questions about the case before the trial. Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.