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Amazon Alexa Data Wanted in Murder Investigation

Amazon's voice assistant may provide clues in an Arkansas case in which a man was found dead in a hot tub.
Amazon Alexa Data Wanted in Murder Investigation
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Amazon's Alexa voice assistant may have information useful to a murder investigation in Arkansas, where authorities issued a groundbreaking warrant in a case that evokes Apple's spat with the FBI earlier this year.

Police want access to data from the Amazon Echo speaker belonging to James Bates of Bentonville, Ark., who was charged earlier this year with first-degree murder, The Information reported Tuesday. Since the Echo speaker is always listening for Alexa voice commands, the audio it recorded could provide clues about what happened inside Bates's home on Nov. 22, 2015, when a man was found dead in his hot tub.

 
 

Amazon is fairly secretive about how it handles the audio recorded from Alexa-enabled devices. According to its privacy statement, the company collects "information about use of Alexa and its interaction with your Alexa Enabled Product (such as device type, voice information, content metadata and location)." Amazon reserves the right to store that information on its servers, and promises to handle it in accordance with its main privacy policy.

A key issue in the Arkansas case is whether or not Amazon's servers have information that the police can't otherwise access. Engadget reports that it handed over Bates' account details and purchases while refusing to let the police access server data. Court records show that Amazon twice declined to give the actual voice search queries to local police, according to New York Magazine.

"Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us," a spokesperson told PCMag. "Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course."

Police access to user data stored on consumer technology devices was fodder for national debate this year when Apple refused to help the FBI access an encrypted iPhone. The FBI eventually gained access on its own, effectively kicking down the road the issue of whether or not tech companies should be required to aid an investigation.

If you're an Alexa user concerned that Amazon might be storing your personal conversations, the company provides some options to manage voice recordings and review what you've asked Alexa. The simplest is to delete all voice recordings associated with your Amazon account for each of your Alexa-enabled products. To do so, visit www.amazon.com/mycd or contact customer service.


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