In the 1999 Disney original, smart house, a teenage boy wins a futuristic home for him and his family and this house was fully equipped with an AI system that served as their assistant/butler. It prepares coffee for them before they wake up in the morning, cleans, and plays with the family dog and plays music specific to the mood at the time.
Fast forward 18 years, and what is science fiction in the 90s is now a reality today. Of course, this reality is excluding the ability of the smart house to become self-aware and try to hold the household hostage. However, the general trends of technology are going towards the AI-powered smart homes that continually learn what your preferences are over time. Welcome to the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
It will surprise you what these devices can do and perhaps even more surprising is the laws surrounding its use and what can be done with the information it collects. Recently a judge ordered Amazon to turn over the recordings that an amazon echo device made in a double homicide case in New Hampshire where two women were stabbed fatally in January of 2017. Prosecutors submitted that the smart home assistants may have recorded the incident and will be able to shed more light on the murder. Amazon refused to release any information until a valid legal demand was served.
There was another case popular in 2015 where amazon echo data was needed in yet another murder investigation where prosecutors believed that the device must have recorded the events leading up to the discovery of the body in a hot tub. The defendant voluntarily turned in the data and the charges were dropped as there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.
This begs the question that if smart home devices are always listening, why the data from the 2015 case couldn’t offer any clarity to the investigation. This is a common misconception with the smart devices. They aren’t actively listening to you at all times as many would suggest but rater they are always in a passive listening mode where they only activate at the mention of specific keywords known as wake words. Words such as Alexa, okay google, etc. All other words that they hear before this wake word is constantly discarded and not uploaded to the cloud.
If you are not so comfortable with the device being able to store information about you, you can request for the option where it listens to you but it permanently deletes all recordings that might have been made. If you’re area Google home user, for instance, you can click on your google account and beneath your profile, click on manage google activity, then go to my activity. You can delete all activity and all stored queries by selecting “Delete activity by” and then select “all time”. This deletes all of the information it has collected over a period of time.