Data hunting: a lawless world

Internet of Things

Internet user privacy debate has been recently put on the table again. This time controversy turns around Amazon Echo, a digital assistant to use at home similar to the one in your phone, operated by voice and connected to Internet. An owner of this device was found dead in his bathtub in November last year and, in their attempt to gather evidence of what happened that day, police officers are currently pointing at the American company to receive the recordings Amazon Echo may have stored in Amazon’s private server.

                     The Amazon Echo device

Faced with these demands from the authorities of the United States, the logistic king states no streaming is possible if the device is not activated by the user. Nevertheless there have been no signs of direct denial that they are not in possession of such recordings. In other words, it is not clear whether Amazon is actually getting data when Echo is inactive, in which case we’d be opening the doors to our homes to a device which is feeding our personal data to the service provider permanently.

The article that inspired this very first entry in my blog raises two main issues: on one hand the never-ending difficulty to enforce law whenever digital data is involved. On the other, the ambiguity regarding the exact amount of data that giant tech companies are storing from users.

Do you know exactly the data you provide as a user?

I do agree with the fact that we are coping with new battles nobody could have ever imagined 50 years ago and probably our legislation system or part of it should be updated accordingly. However, I can’t help but showing surprise when thinking about how little we are told regarding user data. Even more shocking than that it’s the actual possibility of remaining in that ambiguity when asked to provide possible evidence of a major crime such as murder.

With this case we just witnessed how powerful tech companies have become. Not only users aren’t aware when exactly a connected gadget is registering data about their lives, but even authorities are not allowed to get a clear and accurate reply to that question. Now tell me, who else can successfully avoid revealing personal information of their customers in such situations at present times? We could easily ask doctors or priests, to give you some examples, about their legal liability. Right, the one that tech companies never heard of to date.

Legal liability remains ambiguous in terms of user data.

I’d base my opinion on the principle that digital data could perfectly be an evidence of a suspicious crime –just as SMS, e-mails and other electronical material have been accepted in trials in the past. Amazon and any IT company must respond to the authorities demands with their most truthful information. There’s no room for insinuations, elusiveness or excuses at this point, but being transparent and following the rules any other citizen and enterprise is currently following. If they don’t, one could easily suspect there’s something else behind all this… just saying.

 

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