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Police ask for Echo data in murder case – Amazon only gives them purchase history

(TECH NEWS) According to Amazon, Alexa is “always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Uber, Domino’s, and more.” Sounds great? It is, until it can be used against you in a court of law.

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Prosecution calls Alexa to the stand

Amazon has been promoting its new Echo device on practically every platform available. If you haven’t seen the advertisement, count yourself fortunate.

The Echo, which answers to the name Alexa, is a hands-free speaker that responds to voice commands. You can get sports information, news, weather, and more just by asking Alexa. Echo can also read audiobooks, report traffic, and control lights and thermostats if your home is compatible with Alexa’s interface.

According to the Amazon website, Alexa is “always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Uber, Domino’s, and more.” Sounds great? It is, until it can be used against you in a court of law.

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The problem with listening devices

James Andrew Bates from Bentonville, Arkansas owns an Echo. He is also charged for the 2015 first-degree murder of Victor Collins. The trial is set for next year. The authorities served Amazon with a warrant for all audio and recordings from the Echo.

Although the Echo itself doesn’t have a hard drive, Amazon keeps records on its servers, but it’s not known for how long. Alexa’s voice commands are generally activated by saying its name. However, the device can be triggered and record what is going on in the room inadvertently.

The police have Bates’ Echo, but they want the information from Amazon’s servers.

So far, Amazon has declined to give police the information from the Echo, instead providing only account details and purchases made by Bates.

Bates’ attorney says there is an expectation of privacy within your home. Amazon’s spokesperson released this statement to Engadget: “Amazon 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.”

Who is right?

Technology is a wonderful thing…until it’s used against us. Does Bates have a right to privacy through the gadgets in his home? Apple would probably assert yes, given that it fought so hard to prevent the Feds from forcing the company to break into the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone.

The Bates’ case is very similar to the San Bernardino case. Allowing the government access into devices that most people believe are private sets a dangerous precedent. Most people don’t think about having their privacy invaded through their home’s smart devices, but we should. It is a very slippery slope if the police gain access to the information that is stored on Amazon’s servers from the Echo.

As William Orville Douglas, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, said in 1966, “We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government.” This case should be watched by everyone.

#EchoMurderCase

Dawn Brotherton is a Staff Writer at The American Genius, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. Before earning her degree, she spent over 20 years homeschooling her two daughters, who are now out changing the world. She lives in Oklahoma and loves to golf. She hopes to publish a novel in the future.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michele

    January 2, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I thought I wanted an Echo until I see something like this. What if it’s being used to spy on me in my own house? No, thanks.

  2. Pingback: Microsoft and Department of Justice battle over your private data - The American Genius

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Woven is the secret productivity weapon for remote teams

(TECH NEWS) Woven helps you keep track of your digital calendar in the age of remote work. It has great integration and alerts to keep you on track with ease.

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We are now several weeks into social distancing and remote work. Hopefully, you’ve begun to settle into a routine and you find yourself able to take a look at the situation around you instead of just fighting to keep your head above water. Managing, or being a part of, a remote team comes with its challenges.

Working remotely has the potential to blur the lines between work and life. As you try to schedule time to see family and friend’s virtually, it can become difficult to manage all your different digital commitments. This is especially true if you use multiple calendar systems such as Microsoft Outlook for work and Gmail for your personal life.

If you’re riding the struggle bus, Woven can lend a helping hand. This next-generation smart calendar released a suite of tools designed to help maintain productivity and collaborate better. Woven allows you to schedule meetings with people directly from your calendar. Share one-off scheduling links with anyone anywhere – eliminating the need for a bunch of third party apps. You can even send a link through iMessage. Woven also helps you schedule meetings with multiple people by building group polls and sharing availability with other participants.

One of the key tools in the Woven suite is Zoom integration.

Zoom meetings work to keep everyone together, but scheduling them and keeping track of your calendar can be a remote work nightmare. Using Woven, you’ll be able to turn those weird Zoom meeting URLs into simple “join call” buttons, streamline your entire day, and reduce the Zoom overwhelm. This can eliminate a source of unnecessary stress as you do your best to be a productive employee, or business owner, through the current global situation.

Other powerful tools joining Woven’s suite include, “Home” which highlights your important meetings for the day and “Analytics” which gives you actionable insights on how you spend your time. You can review it daily and weekly to ensure you’re spending your most valuable asset on the things you care the most about.

If you’re struggling to manage your new remote workflow and keep track of your digital appointments, consider trying Woven. It is currently available for free download for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Windows.

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Zoom banned by Space X? Why?

(TECH NEWS) Just because an app is most used doesn’t mean it is most trustworthy, Zoom has some glaring security faults most people didn’t know about.

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Video conference apps are the glue currently holding large parts of workforce together. If you’re working from home either as a result of the quarantine or business as usual, then you’ve likely heard or used the common go-to app, Zoom. Recently, Zoom has made some troubling headlines regarding privacy concerns so much so that SpaceX employees are now banned from using the app. This comes soon after an announcement by the FBI warning about call hijacking and harassment now aptly named “Zoombombing”.

An earlier report this week by The Intercept shows that Zoom does not provide end-to-end encryption between call participants. The company also has the ability to view call sessions. As SpaceX is a federal contractor whose customers include NASA and the Department of Defense, the company is classified as an essential business. The decision to ban Zoom usage came from a memo from founder and CEO Elon Musk.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has reached out to Zoom addressing security concerns. Other security researchers have discovered flaws in Zoom’s software where hackers can gain access to users’ cameras or microphones.

As if it couldn’t get any dicier, the iOS version of the Zoom app is found to send data to Facebook regardless if a user has a Facebook account. As of March 2020, Zoom’s privacy policy made no mention of the data exchange.

ZOOM CEO Eric Yuan announced the company is focusing on solving its privacy and security issues. He’s vowed that over the next 90 days, Zoom will prepare a transparency report showing information related to data requests in addition to diverting all engineering resources to resolve “trust, safety, and privacy issues.”

Considering how many video calls will be made in the near future, and that we don’t know when Zoom will be trustworthy here are some paid and free options. It seems that even your computers aren’t safe during the pandemic.

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Will COVID-19 break the internet?

(TECH NEWS) Internet usage is obviously up right now, but what can that do to the infrastructure? Tech companies say it’s the websites and local networks that are slow.

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With more people staying at home, working from home and doing school from home, the internet is being taxed. You might have noticed your own service running slower or low-quality video streaming. Do we have to worry about the internet crashing? The quick answer is – “It depends.”

Yes, Americans are stressing the internet

The internet is actually pretty resilient when it comes to bandwidth. The network cables that connect people to the internet are built to handle spikes in use. When you stream video, it’s designed to adjust to your connection for the best quality. Even though Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime are reducing the download speeds in the Europe market, there is no reason to suspect that the internet is going to shut down during this crisis.

That being said, Tech Crunch reports that download speeds in the United States are being affected in some markets. New York City, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 virus had download speeds drop by about 24%. Austin saw a drop of 44%.

Rural markets are struggling. It’s hard to imagine that there are still some places in the United States that don’t have internet access. Other places may get internet, but the service can be unreliable on a good day. With the added stress of people staying home, service can be even spottier.

Traffic might be up on the internet, but the system was built to scale up. Think about how much more data is available today over two decades ago. And consider how many more users there are from even 10 years ago. More Americans are streaming movies and TV shows than ever before.

It’s local networks and websites that may see a problem

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said,
We’re trying to make sure that we can stay in front of this challenge. Right now, this isn’t a massive outbreak in every country around the world, but if it gets there, then we really need to make sure we’re on top of this from an infrastructure perspective and make sure that we can continue to provide the level of service that people need in a time like this.”

Google, Amazon and Facebook have been built for spikes in usage, but even Amazon’s website had a problem in 2018 on Prime Day when their servers couldn’t handle the number of shoppers. Big companies have the infrastructure in place to deal with the kinks of added traffic. There could be some issues that come up, but it’s unlikely to shut down things for too long.

It’s more likely that users will see issues in local websites that aren’t designed for the added traffic. Home networks will be stressed with multiple people trying to manage work and school at the same time. If you’re experiencing problems, check how many devices are trying to access the system within your own home. Go with SD streaming instead of HD.

The Internet was built to withstand a nuclear bomb

One BuzzFeed article believes that the likelihood of the internet breaking down is low. There may be challenges in some areas, especially as more providers lift data caps for its users. But most companies are aware of the problem and are trying to ramp up services to meet demands during this crisis.

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