Brooke Hochstein ‘17: Conspiracy theories can be chilling and eerie, but for some reason people just can’t get enough of them. Once you read one, you get hooked. Before you know it, you’re up at 3 a.m., reading 20 of them, believing the whole world is one big lie. Stumbling upon one the other night, their is one conspiracy theory in particular I find quite interesting. Whether or not it’s true is for you to decide.
This theory focuses on Amazon’s latest gadget, The Amazon Echo, also known as
“Alexa”. According to Amazon.com, the hands-free speaker, an incredibly popular item this Christmas, is used to “play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more-instantly.” But what most people don’t know may send chills down your spine.
Anytime you speak to Alexa, there is a chance she’s recording everything you say.
Conspiracists first investigated the Echo after it became a controversial piece of evidence in a murder trial. According to Star Tribune, in 2014 James Andrew Bates was accused of killing Victor Collins, after Collins’ dead body was found floating in Bates’ hot tub. While investigating the crime scene, police noticed an Amazon Echo in the kitchen. The police force requested a search warrant, which was signed by a judge in August that requests all, “audio recordings, transcribed records, text records and other data” from Bates’ Echo speaker.
The prosecution’s request was first reported by The Information.
“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” Amazon spokeswoman, Kinley Pearsall said in an email to Fortune. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
Now I know what you’re wondering: Is the Echo is listening to everything we say? Doesn’t that seem to deprive our rights to privacy? If police are able to obtain and listen to Bates’ personal recorded conversations, what else do they have access to?
This is where we get the actual conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theorists believe the government asked Amazon to make the Echos for the sole purpose of getting inside American households and recording everything they say. Crazy, I know, but stay with me.
Amazon claims the Echo stores the information it hears in the “cloud” in order to better understand the user’s likes and dislikes. However, it claims to only be listening when it hears the activation word, “Alexa”. Some seem to doubt this claim, especially since the company has had privacy issues in the past with the Amazon Fire Phone, (http://venturebeat.com/2014/06/19/amazon-fire-phone-might-be-the-biggest-privacy-invasion-ever-and-no-ones-noticed/) .
On Pale of Future, conspiracist, Matt Novak, so intrigued by the idea, decided to write a Freedom of Information request to the FBI. Within this request he asked whether or not the FBI has ever been involved with wiretapping an Amazon Echo. Their response was questionable.
“Please be advised that, upon reviewing the substantive nature of your request, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to your request,” Section Chief of Record/Information, David M. Hardy said. “The mere acknowledgement of whether or not the FBI has any such records in and of itself would disclose techniques, procedures, and/or guidelines that could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”
Is “Alexa” really listening to us? The FBI can neither confirm nor deny using recordings from the Amazon Echo, meaning to theorists they have something to hide.
Read more on the Victor Collins murder case and Echo conspiracies here: