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Is a connected speaker from Amazon & # 39; witness & # 39; been a double murder in the United States?

An Amazon Echo Dot loudspeaker. Mike Stewart / AP

Can a connected speaker keep track of important information about a murder? That is what American justice seems to believe. On Friday, November 9, a judge from New Hampshire asked Amazon to provide data from an Echo speaker in the kitchen of a Farmington house where a double murder took place in 2017, reported Associated Press. .

A man accused of killing two women in this house was accused in January in this case. The Public Prosecutor's Office believes that this room could have captured elements before, during and after the murder of one of them in the kitchen, whose body was later moved. Records that, if they existed, could give a better understanding of the facts. The trial against this man, who did not plead guilty, is scheduled for May 2019.

Read also Security, privacy: can we trust connected speakers?

What is the case in this kind of situation for Amazon, whose connected loudspeakers are most commonly used in American homes (the latest figures call up 50 million users in the United States)? The company told the American press that "Would not release user information" without an official request from the American judge, presented in the correct form. She stressed that she "Objection against excessive or inappropriate requests"but has not indicated what his position would be in this particular case.

Registration activated by keywords

These are exactly the same words that Amazon used in a similar case … in 2016. But this time to oppose the US court's request. The US court then asked the Seattle group for tape recordings from a man accused of murdering one of his friends in Arkansas in 2015. What the company then refused. the The dispute came to an end when the defendant, who claimed that he was innocent and claimed that the death of his friend happened to happen, gave Amazon permission to provide the requested information.

Finally, the charges against him were dropped at the end of 2017 because the gathering of evidence made it possible to bring "Different reasonable explanations" at the death of this man, according to the parquet quoted by CNN. Does this evidence contain data provided by Amazon? And if so, did they play a part in the decision to withdraw the complaint? This information has not been made public.

The ability of Echo speakers to deliver relevant recordings remains very uncertain

But the ability of Echo speakers to make relevant recordings in these cases remains very uncertain. According to the Jeff Bezos group, if the microphone is always open by default, it is only to find the words that the speaker should activate. For example "Alexa" (the name of the voice assistant that equips these devices), "Echo" or "Amazon". Only when one of these words is spoken, the speaker records the sounds of the waiters of the company and sends them so that they are analyzed and that the device can give a correct answer, the company always explained. For example, if the user says, "Alexa, how long will it be tomorrow?" The phrase "what will tomorrow be? Is recorded, sent to Amazon where it is processed by artificial intelligence systems, responsible for "understanding" the request and returning the most relevant information.

Activate accidentally

In this case, the probability that Alexa has recorded a crime scene is quite low: in theory one of the protagonists have pronounced one of the words that the speaker can activate.

However, this is not completely excluded for various reasons. Firstly, it is conceivable that one of the people in a dangerous situation has consciously decided to activate the recording. But it is also possible that the speaker accidentally activated himself, because he accidentally detected one of the words that would activate him. In May, for example, Amazon acknowledged that an Echo speaker incorrectly picked up a couple's conversation and passed it on to a man's employee. The group then explained that a chain of misunderstandings about Alexa was the cause of the problem – and that this case was very rare.

"Echo woke up after hearing a word from the conversation that sounded like" Alexa. "Then she interpreted the next call as the request" sending a message. "At that moment, Alexa replied," Who are you talking to? "The speaker then interpreted the conversation as the name of a contact, then Alexa spoke the name of the contact and then a confirmation request "is that it?" After which Alexa interpreted the next call as "that's it". "

These kinds of examples show that it is possible for Amazon to have conversations on its servers whose affiliated speaker holders never wanted them to be included.

The specter of the conflict between Apple and the FBI

The big digital companies are sometimes asked by the law in these kinds of companies and they do not always work together. The most telling example so far is the fierce impasse between Apple and the FBI in 2016. The federal agency asked the Apple company to help the iPhone unlock one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino bombing in California, involving 14 people were killed on December 2, 2015. Apple had always refused and explained that circumventing the security of an iPhone was to weaken that of all its customers – and thereby compromise their personal data.

The case had created a big gap between those who believe that the user of an electronic device, such as a smartphone – or a connected speaker – should be able to keep his information private, and those who believe that legitimate investigations by the security forces order must prevail.

Morgane Tual

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