Many smart home products are positioned as items that help offer security for consumers. Install this camera that streams live footage to the cloud so you can access anytime. Use a digital lock so that you never have to remember your keys when you go on a run. Get a smart fire and carbon monoxide alarm for the safety of your family.
But what happens if you end up tangled up in a legal case and must deal with the law and your digital privacy? If you are using digital locks, data could be pulled to see every single time – precisely – a lock was unlocked or locked. The data will also tell which door was used. Your home security cameras can be reviewed by authorities to validate – or disprove – any information that you give them.
Your digital life is becoming part of who you are, and as such is open game to the law – like receipts or cell phone data. It can be used to paint of picture of your character, and to build a timeline of your whereabouts.
But these are the things we expect from our smart home devices – we bought them because want to use the tracking and real-time information. But what about devices that are always listening, like the Google Home and Amazon’s line of Echo products? Sure, digital assistants track the entire history of what things you have looked up, and what time. But what about when you haven’t intentionally shared information? Do these devices then actually work against your personal security?
Not many consumers are going to pay much attention to the “always listening” part of these devices, because they are going to be paying attention to all the convenient skills that are being advertised instead. There is a microphone off button – but it isn’t advertised. Google and Amazon don’t want you to turn the microphone off – they want to be omnipresent.
Right now, it is still murky waters with the data on these devices. Are Google and Amazon legally required to share that information? Is that information even able to submit in court, or is a person’s private home, and their private conversations, protected?
Amazon is currently exploring this situation; they received a request for information from Amazon’s servers about an Echo owner that has been charged with murder. They did not provide the private information that might have been recorded – they only provided account information and purchase history.
It might be easy to think, at first, that you don’t want “big brother” listening to everything that happens at your house. But, are you sure about that? Yeah, if you’re in legal trouble and the data from your smart digital assistant is used against you, you are going to be pissed (and to those people I recommend maybe staying off the grid if you’re a shady criminal that needs to…stay off the grid).
However, if that information helps catch someone that performed a criminal act against you, or helps catch a serial killer or rapist or murderer, you would probably feel differently.