According to The Information, and as reported by Breitbart News, owners of the Amazon Alexa devices may soon be having some or even all of their conversations transcribed and reviewed by third-party developers, a move that is already sending up a red flag in the minds of many of Amazon’s customers.
For those who are unaware, the Amazon Echo is a device that essentially acts as a home computer that is instantly activated the second someone in the room says, “Alexa.” For instance, if you were cooking dessert and needed the recipe for homemade brownies, you could simply say “Alexa, read me a brownie recipe,” and the device would answer you within seconds. But while this sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie, the underlying problems that come with a device that constantly listens for that activation word can be rather significant.
As Breitbart reports, “At the moment, developers making apps that will use Alexa are only permitted to see non-identifying information, such as location data, how often users talk to their devices, and how many times a specific ‘skill’ is used. If full transcripts were visible to developers, the greater amount of data could be put to use in order to improve and fine-tune their applications.”
Although ex-product head for the Alexa team, Ahmed Bouzid, claims that developers are currently only allowed to see “70 percent of what they need to know,” The Information explains that some have access to every single piece of information that is gathered by the Alexa device. This acquisition of this data is not only a clear violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights, but it also opens the door to an entire world full of hackers who are eager and capable of breaking in and stealing your personal information.
During a speech earlier this summer at the Cheltenham Science Festival, cyber security expert Dr. Jason Nurse elaborated on the very real privacy concerns regarding these Amazon devices. “If hackers find a way to compromise these devices in our homes, they could have it recording all of the time and you wouldn’t necessarily know,” he explained. Nurse went on to say that hackers could hear you discussing holiday plans and find out when you will be away from home, or even collect credit card information.
If Amazon really does decide to give third-party developers access to all of the information collected by devices like the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Look, then it’s not a stretch that at least with respect to privacy, the company is going in the wrong direction. Corporations that are constantly putting out new forms of technology should never stop doing so, but that being said, it is also important that they maintain a level of respect for the Fourth Amendment. If our country continues to develop new technology but the liberties of the American people are squandered in the process, what is the point?