Can your smart home be used against you in court?
A reasonable expectation of privacy
The question of how much privacy we can reasonably expect when installing a home assistant is complex and unresolved. In a sense, people who buy an Echo or Home know what they’re getting themselves into from the very basic fact that they’ve purchased an internet-connected device, with built-in microphones, that is designed (in some sense) to always be listening — and it’s created by companies that thrive on tailoring ads based on the boatloads of data they collect from users.
Still, constant recording and storage is another question entirely. Home assistants are designed to have an ear open at all times, monitoring their surroundings for keywords like “Alexa,” “Google” or “Siri.” But once a user consents by introducing such a device into their home, are its manufacturers bound by law to only record and store the information their products were designed to act upon? Or has the consumer effectively waived those rights?
“As a legal matter, it’s unresolved, which is part of what worries us about the whole thing,” ACLU senior analyst Jay Stanley tells TechCrunch. “I think most people don’t expect that snippets of their conversation might accidentally get picked up. [Smart assistants] do hear trigger words when trigger words are not intended.”
Even with the best of intentions, such devices leave open the possibility of collecting unintended information, courtesy of advanced recording technologies capable of firing up from across the room. Stanley covered the topic recently in an article penned for the ACLU that was inspired when he encountered an Echo at a friend’s dinner party.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
- Robert J. Hanlon.