Alexa is Amazon’s virtual personal assistant. Just like many other such as Appel’s Siri or Google Now. The number of companies that are implementing such service in their products is following an increasing tendency.
The aim of these virtual assistants is to ease the customer’s life and help them find what they need faster.
Put it this way, it seems that Alexa and its colleagues mean nothing but benefits to the population. But they might have a dark side, though.
Alexa Used as a Proof to Solve a Murder Case
Benton County. The state of Arkansas. 2015.
James Bates, 31, is charged with first-degree murder. His friend, Victor Parris Collins, a former police officer, is found dead in Bate’s hot tube. The defense used Amazon Eco-smart speaker as an evidence to prove the innocence of the suspect.
Amazon handed over the records. The suspect was proved innocent and the charges dismissed.
Taking into account how incredibly useful this evidence was for Mr. Bates to avoid prison and prove his innocence, why has this trial become so controversial?
A Threat to Privacy
As it has been already said, virtual personal assistants are meant to ease customers life. One doesn’t have to even make the effort of typing to search for what they need, as these assistants recognize and understand voice messages. Therefore, it is enough with asking out loud what you need to know, and you will automatically get the answer in your screen.
This might seem quite convenient. But, is it worth to risk our privacy in benefit of a bit of unnecessary comfort?
As a result of the Bates murder case, it has been proved that smart speakers are constantly listening to us. Those types of software use a “keyword” that activates them when pronounced beside them.
This way, one can be speaking close to the phone (who does not carry their phones everywhere?) and unconsciously activating whatever such system your mobile has integrated. Since the moment the smart speaker is activated, it starts recording your private, not so private anymore, conversation, which is stored in the database of the company at hand.
But, although they agree to not using your data without consent under any circumstances, there are always loopholes that leave your private data unprotected.
The Raising of Concerns
As technology is making its way to our daily life, authorities are more eager than ever to use them to protect the population. But there are some sectors of the population and some intellectuals that consider the use of smart speakers’ technology a form of control rather than protection.
The debate on whether governments should regulate the use of this technology in criminal cases is on the table now. Some think this would be a good way of reducing the trial time and that it would be essential to solving some difficult cases.
On the other side, the fact that we are constantly “spied” mostly for commercial reasons, is raising some concerns among the population.
The answer to this is not clear, nor easy.