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Smart Home

The whirlpool murder: The digital butler was a witness

Bentonville’s investigative authorities are interested in an Amazon Echo device which witnessed a murder and may have recorded valuable clues.

18 Jan. 2017
Amazon Echo
Amazon’'s "digital butler" Echo could now help solve a murder. (Photo: Amazon)

Amazon’'s "digital butler" Echo turns on its microphones and the online service Alexa when certain "wake words" are spoken. The feature could now help solve a murder. According to reports from the online magazine, "The Information", the police in the state of Arkansas demanded that Amazon release the recordings of one of its Echo speakers. The company refused – as did the accused himself. A man had been found dead in his whirlpool in November 2015. The Echo speaker had been used that night. It could therefore, as police hope, have "overheard" data or conversations that might contribute to solving the crime.

On the one hand, using Alexa to solve a murder is a clever idea. But at the same time, consumer organizations keep warning against "bugging in your own home" . When the Echo was introduced in October 2016, National Representative for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (Bundesbeauftragte für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit, BfDI) Andrea Voßhoff had already advised caution in the Berliner Tagesspiegel and warned against "round-the-clock surveillance".