Amazon Echo and the Future of Privacy

August 15. 2017

Amazon Echo was first introduced to the company's Prime members in November 2014. The device felt like something out of a science fiction movie: this small device could complete vocal requests, from ordering more laundry detergent to playing songs from a playlist. 

The efficiency of this device is due, in part, to the company's far reach in e-commerce. Google worked to deliver a similar product to market - and in introduced Google Home to the U.S. market in 2016. You don't have to be a Gmail user to see its benefits.

However, for both these devices to be most effective, they require full access to your email accounts, your social media accounts, your credit card information - and they need to be constantly monitoring your language for any requests. For these reasons, security experts view these in-home devices with a heavy dose of skepticism. Do these devices spell the end of privacy for users?

Home privacy

The Amazon Echo played a potentially large role in the murder of a man in Arkansas. Police wanted to access the recordings to verify a suspect's statement. Amazon, however, refused access. It is one of many tech giants that insist on the privacy and anonymity of its users and their data. At present, this company fought warrants presented by police, which creates a dilemma.

"What we have here is a confluence between the 'home is paramount' cases and this other line of cases that say 'when you share information with a third party, you lose privacy protection in it,' which is called the third-party doctrine," said Margot Kaminski, a professor of law at Ohio State University, to Popular Science.

But what happens when the laws meant to enforce privacy aren't keeping up with the pace at which this technology is being developed? This is creating new challenges that companies must address - and making consumers question how much privacy they're willing to forgo for the sake of quickly and easily making online purchases.

Video and audio recording

In April 2017, Amazon Echo reinvigorated the debate when it released a new version that includes a video camera. The intent, according to the company, is to help customers create a look-book of fashions through Style Check, which takes full-length photos and videos of individuals and their outfits and offers advice from stylists. However, according to TechCrunch, the company also is looking to further its fashion e-commerce by gathering more data from its users. The video and photos that the Amazon Look gathers travels - and stays - in the cloud on Amazon Web Services, which can expose users' private lives to hackers should the AWS get hacked.

When we're at home, we rattle off our credit card number while on the phone without thinking anyone is listening. And we leave our checkbooks open on the bedroom table. If a hacker should gain access to these cameras, they may have the chance to get a peek into the private lives of Amazon customers and see their personal data, which they can then use.

What can consumers do?

They can remain wary of purchasing these devices. For consumers that have already purchased them, they can take advantage of the mute button that is featured prominently on the face of the Amazon Echo. In addition, users can review the footage stored on AWS and delete the information they no longer need - and once it's gone, hackers may not be able to gain access to that information – but there is no guarantee of that.

As smart technology becomes more prominent, it's important to have a second set of eyes to monitor personal information. That's where Identity Guard comes in. We can develop a personalized plan, including credit monitoring, to protect your sensitive data.

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