In March Amazon launched a game on their Echo smart speaker, inviting users to solve the fictional murder of Bruce and Martha Wayne, Batman’s parents. Needless to say the adventure was a marketing plug to promote the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Surprisingly the fiction became a reality, when local police in Arkansas obtained a warrant for Amazon to turn over recording data from an Echo device to help prosecute a suspected murderer. Reportedly, Amazon has declined giving such information, twice.
The Echo speaker and its embedded virtual assistant Alexa is an always-on device, which means it passively listens to audio cues at all times. That's why police thinks it may have witnessed a murder. Supposedly, the device only records user’s voices after activating it with the so-called “wake words” (like “Alexa”), but officers said that music had been streaming throughout the night of the murder, which may have activated the speaker inadvertently. An Amazon spokesperson responded: "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”.
This is not the first time technology has interfered with legal matters. Earlier this year, Apple defied FBI's orders to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, raising similar concerns over privacy matters. Keeping in mind there are currently over 5 million Echo sitting in households around the world, we may want to reconsider this Orwellian future.