Amazon Alexa: A Crime Prevention Tool

I wonder if Little Brother's author, Cory Doctorow, ever thought we would be under surveillance in our homes at our own hands? He presents the government as roaming through our neighborhoods tracking us with antennas or through our FastPass systems, but did not see home assistants in his near future work. Recently, Amazon's Alexa has been called as a witness in two murder cases. It is assumed that Alexa was listening the whole time and Amazon is being subpoenaed to provide evidence need to solve the murders (a double homicide in New Hampshire and the one described in the video above).

Once you unbox your new assistant your commands (and conversations) teach its AI to learn and predict  your habits, ummmm.... is this something you really want? What about the possibility of being hacked? Does Alexa profile you? Well, of course, it does, so it can report back to its Amazon overlord all your needs and wishes. Remember what Doctorow says, anything you can dream of with computers "must be possible".

After reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow think about how he highlights the fears of terrorism versus surveillance. Think about how your standards have changed about security, privacy, and surveillance.

How would you balance privacy and public safety?

Are you ready to go out and buy an Amazon Alexa  to help you around the house?


  1. I think privacy is more important than public safety because the public has the right and should be able to protect themselves, and I rather not have everyone know my business.

    I am not ready to go buy an Alexa because as it might come in play as help I wouldn't want it listening to me all the time.

  2. In my opinion it is very hard to balance security and privacy, but the United states Government does not balance both so in my opinion, if we can get a balance by legislation, or a vote, people will be more likely to build upon ideas people brought forth. This would be a great way for people to understand what is going on. It would not be a secrete anymore.
    -Liam Neels

  3. Public and private safety are two separate things even though they are both along the lines of ones safety. It's easier to be open minded to public surveillance when your exposed to countless opportunities and people surrounding you, but private safety, such as being watched in your own home is a little more intrusive. I'd balance my public and private safety by limiting the access of surveillance in my home. Surveillance is supposed to give you the feeling of safety, but in some cases it doesn't. Personally I wouldn't go out of my way to buy Amazons Alexa. There isn't much more she can do that my phone or TV can do. Plus having her do my bidding will just make me lazy.

  4. I think that government and corporations surveillance shouldn't go into the private homes of citizens. Surveillance in densely populated areas is welcome and can help with preventing crimes. But recording private conversations is invasive and only helps in very specific scenarios. Me, personally, I wish I could get rid of the Alexa that is in our house. I know it listens in to every conversation I have around it and I'd rather not let Amazon know what's up in my life.

  5. I think privacy is an important aspect to our daily lives and the new surveillance technology is threatening it. To balance it I believe that the people should have the right to decide whether a new technology that could potentially violate our privacy should be put into action. The government should also have a probable cause to use it on its own people, outside of the country is different, but inside there needs to be checks and balances.

    Unfortunately, my dad bought an Alexa and so we have had one for about a couple months. In my honest opinion it does not work as well as the company says it does. After reading about how it spies on the people who buy them it scares me to talk around it.

  6. I believe that legislation could help to reduce the risk of privacy violations and protect individuals while maintaining the surveillance necessary to keep our society safe. In my household we already have Alexa but after a little research Alexa only begins listening and recording when spoken to so I am not concerned with the issue.
    -Timothy DeMattos

  7. Max:

    I would balance privacy and public safety by urging the government to open a dialogue with its concerning surveillance by both the private and the public sector. While the focus of the public's rage against surveillance has been primarily directed at the government, surveillance performed by the private sector has long gone under the radar. Additionally, while the private sector has been receiving more attention, attempts to regulate the data they can and cannot collect have not fully manifested. As of now, I am not ready to have Alexa as a perennial house guest, but am unsure of how it can be improved in the future, as it function is based on its ability to collect data.

  8. I would balance privacy and public safety by first proposing laws with the implementation of new surveillance technology that gets used by private companies and by the government. It is important to establish what is and what is not allowed early on to help prevent abuse of such systems that would otherwise effect an unknowing public. I think privacy is important to try to preserve as much as we can, and I think it is also important for us to remain safe.

    I feel I would be okay with having an Alexa around my house, since I believe my other devices are already broadcasting my information to private companies. I believe everything I say and do online is already being monitored and recorded in a profile tied to myself. Adding an Alexa into the mix would not change much if my information is already being recorded. I already use Amazon for a majority of my online purchases anyways so it should be quite familiar with my purchasing history already.

    Thank you,
    Alex L.

  9. I believe that I would still get one because I do not do anything that is remotely illegal. I feel that it is more useful than it is harmful in any way. As for balancing privacy and safety I believe that people should be able to choose what they want to share with government officials or agencies. Things such as the patriot act should not be used to spy on every person who is connected in some way to a person of interest, if they wish to get a secret warrant to spy on a person of interest it should be used only for that person rather than for everyone who is connected to the main person.

  10. The way I would balance privacy and public safety would be to establish a public committee that would revise how far security could invade our privacy, and it would have to reveal also surveillance and security measures to the public. This committee would be regulated and make decisions on a direct democratic basis. With the distribution of power among a large number of people there will be less concentrated power and authoritative decision making.

    I would not buy an Alexa for my home because I am not home enough or lazy enough to use it. One of my friends has one and its only really good for playing music when you want without having to get up and press any buttons. I dont think Alexa and me would be of much use to each other.

  11. To balance privacy and public safety, we should leave it up to the public to decide whether or not we should increase mass surveillance. That way, we would still be gathering the public's opinion on the matter.

    Would I buy an Amazon Alexa? No, I definitely would not buy one. In the off chance that the device catches something out of context, I don't want to get in trouble. I don't need to tell Alexa to turn on a song when I can easily put it on myself.

    Koren Freeman

  12. I would balance privacy and security by having all surveillence and security practices be transparent with the public and all monitored individuals. Just like how a police officer would need a warrant to search and seizure a person's home. On top of this, I believe there should be democratic approvals of all new surveillence systems to approve of new systems.

    I have already bought an amazon Alexa. I use the device to set up wake up alarms and to play music. I'm not very concerned with what the AI system may pickup since they don't appear to be that advanced in the first place. Issues with the system not shutting off its ringing lead me to believe that it doesn't listen most of the time in the first place.

  13. The best way to balance both privacy and public safety is for people to be informed on their privacy rights, and to give them the right resources so they can form their own informed opinions about privacy issues, and eventually go vote on these issues. Overall the best way to make change is democratically, and if people have an issue with increased surveillance they can push for regulations and laws that put an emphasis on more privacy. Personally, I wouldn't go out and buy an Amazon Alexa because I never felt the need to, and I'd feel uncomfortable if it was listening to me at all times.

    Nicole O'Leary

  14. In my option privacy and public safety are two whole different things because privacy is what you are able to control and allow others to know about yourself but public safety you can't control you never know what could happen in this world and the only way to find out is by social media or the network. Those who try to prevent to stop the bad things from happening are never to sure if they can stop it. I personality would not buy an Alexa because I would feel more safe being home alone than having a devise hear what I am doing or talking to her to do certain things in my house when I can do it myself.
    -Larissa Miramones


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