Is Amazon's Alexa connected to the FBI

Loud speakersOnce a nightmare, now everyday life

Manfred Kloiber: Siri from Apple, OK from Google, Alexa from Amazon - the Internet triumvirate has been complete again this year. All three technology companies are now on the move when it comes to networked, listening speakers. After Amazon and Google, Apple will soon be launching its device on the market. Only Microsoft is missing with special hardware for its Cortana service. This device class is just getting ready to conquer the living rooms, kitchens and other rooms in our apartments and houses. A circumstance that puts the hair on the back of the neck for data protection officials. More on that in a moment, first the technical details. Jan Rähm, these networked, voice-activated loudspeakers, how do they work exactly?

Jan Rähm: These loudspeakers have a built-in microphone and an integrated microcomputer connected to the Internet; they should recognize language and understand and execute commands directed at them; the detection takes place in the cloud, with one exception, with Siri it sometimes happens locally. Why, more on that later. When it came to speech recognition, Apple was first with Siri, then the others followed suit. When it came to speakers, Amazon was in the lead. The question is, what am I supposed to do with it? The company's answer is: control my everyday life, it starts with ordering pizza and continues until I control my entire networked home by shouting.

Kloiber: Loudspeakers that listen at home all the time - that's almost a backstairs joke in history. Because in the past, secret services tried in all possible ways to penetrate the lives of others. Today, the others still pay money for it just to be able to chat with a black box.

New concept of privacy

Robert Schmitz is division manager at the data analysis company Qlik. He paints a relatively gloomy picture of home electronics listening.

"The old concept of privacy is no longer there. Just think of the tools that are now available in the context of loudspeaker-microphone combinations from corresponding providers, where everything in a house is permanently scanned Space is spoken in order to then offer appropriate services again. "

The lawyer for IT and media law, Udo Vetter, is also skeptical.

"First of all, the danger lies in the fact that the audio systems are used without hesitation and uncritically. That means, if a Siri or Alexa orders pizza for the employees on call in a law office or checks the weather, then that is of course a faux pas. which simply indicates a lack of awareness of the problem. "

Law Enforcement Opportunities

Awareness of the possibilities of the new technology - that is what the law enforcement authorities will develop relatively quickly. This is shown by the first cases in the USA in which criminal investigators wanted to access data stored in the cloud from fitness trackers and similar devices and in some cases were able to do so. Vetter suspects that it will not be much different with the self-installed listening device.

"The interest of the prosecutors is there, of course. That is very clear. If crimes, possibly serious crimes, are to be investigated, then police officers and prosecutors will of course see what information we can get. And if a clever police officer, the Amazon Echo also has at home, sees at a crime scene, then he may ask, can I do something with it. Only then do we [...] come to the legal framework. "

The surveillance of living spaces is subject to strict laws, at least in Germany. The Code of Criminal Procedure only allows invasion of privacy in the case of serious crimes - and then only within clearly defined limits. Vetter explains the limits.

"In other words, active access to Amazon or Siri or similar is currently not covered by the code of criminal procedure."

But that doesn't have to mean that the recordings stored in the cloud are of no interest. Because what lies there creates desire, says Udo Vetter.

"Recordings that Amazon has saved by chance, so to speak, because the device has just been switched on. As a lawyer, I wouldn’t set my hand on fire to be told that it cannot be used."

Unintentionally punishable?

There is a second legal aspect that users in particular should be aware of. The lawyer warns that under certain circumstances they can make themselves unintentionally criminal with the systems.

"Of course, you also have to make sure that you may not come into the focus of the data protection authorities yourself or that you might get into criminal law problems inform his guests that these voice recordings may have happened. Otherwise, for example, the offense of violating the confidentiality of the spoken word could be fulfilled. "

But: If the comparatively new types of devices were used sensibly, nothing would stand in the way of voice-controlled everyday life. You just have to know how to help yourself. Udo Vetter knows this from personal experience.

"Personally, I have such a loudspeaker system in my home. But personally I'm not quite sure when and how I will be listened to. And that's why I am currently listening to this device simply disconnect it from the power when I don't need it. That means, I cut off the power supply and also the internet connection of this device and only switch it on when I want to use it or, for example, want to show it to friends rather limited to the fact that you can show very interesting demonstrations, how great it all is. "