Do You Have Something to Hide? The Computers Inside Your Home Could Be Listening.

“Alexa, how do you get blood out of carpet?”

Recently, Smart Homes have become a common craze. As with all new technology crazes, there’s often debate over “good vs. bad”; and with the development of artificial intelligence, there comes a debate over what can be deemed “private”.

Suppose I asked Alexa, or Siri, or Google this question. Should this search be allowed to be shared with investigators if I were accused of a violent crime? Is it a violation of privacy if I innocently sliced my finger while chopping tomatoes and got blood on my carpet on my way to the bathroom to bandage up, and “big brother” stored the data of my clean up dilemma?

Smart home devices are hooked up to the internet and each other, and commonly use systems such as Apple’s Siri, Google Homes, or Amazon’s Alexa. According to the Washington Post, these programs are always listening, but do not record unless the “wake” word is used, in which case, information heard is recorded to a cloud and kept there until manually deleted.

Newsweek cites a couple criminal cases where smart devices as evidence are beginning to creep up- one in which controversy has surrounded confiscation of an Amazon Echo device, and Amazon’s refusal to provide data. While some feel that police investigators are violating rights by accessing these personalized home devices, it seems to me that the invasion of privacy is only an issue if you have something to hide.

As someone who has never committed a crime, and whole heartedly never intends to, I know that the only way I would be involved in any kind of criminal investigation is if I were a victim. In that case, I welcome the eyes and ears that a Smart Home could provide. In fact, imagine you were the victim in the first example of the Newsweek article mentioned above, someone who was found shot dead in their own home. Would you argue the smart device data in your home speaking for you then? If I caused you physical harm, then asked Alexa about blood removal? Would you argue my privacy, or demand that my data be released to investigators?

In the smart homes the Urhous media team recently toured, I saw several ways that the home could potentially record data that would inevitably help investigations if a crime were committed in the home.

  • The doorbell initiating video footage of the person at the door. If an intruder were to be disguised as a delivery person, a salesman, etc. if that video footage were recorded in a cloud, the intruder could potentially be identified at a later time, and investigators would not have to rely on eye witness description.
  • Alexa commands at “odd” hours. For example, we were introduced to how just saying, “Alexa, turn on good morning” could set a series of things into place- lighting, shades up, radio on, etc. Could these commands at odd hours be used to assist investigators into at least knowing something was out of sorts? Could they alert any surrounding neighbors to something being amiss (such as shades open at a time when they usually aren’t)?
  • Cameras being initiated by voice commands if a resident was in danger, and near their Echo or other device.
  • Smart security systems recording break-ins.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, incriminating someone who was asking for information that correlates with a recent crime.

I admit, after watching too many true-crime shows, I also wonder if smart home data could prove innocence of someone who was being wrongly accused of criminal activity. Say, by recording days and times of commands or questions, proving a home-alone alibi previously impossible to verify.

While I understand certain privacy concerns, as long as warrants are needed to obtain access to smart home data, and as long as the “always listening” devices are truly just devices listening for “wake” words, then be happy that you could own a home that is essentially on your side…

Or, is there something you’re hiding?

Sources:

Maney, Kevin. “Busted by your Fitbit: How smart devices can solve crimes.” Newsweek. N.p., 23 May 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.

Wang, Amy B. “Can Alexa help solve a murder? Police think so – but Amazon won’t give up her data.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 28 Dec. 2016. Web. 27 July 2017.

By Kristen Stephenson, Urhous Contributor

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