The world’s largest retailer is under fire for releasing a device that, according to some experts, is little more than a spying tool for government surveillance. The “Amazon Echo” device, a constantly-listening Bluetooth speaker that connects to music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify at the sound of a person’s voice, can be easily hacked and used by government agencies like the FBI to listen in on conversations.
Much like Apple’s iPhone, which contains a listening apparatus via “Siri” that can be activated in a room simply by speaking out loud, the Amazon Echo is programmed to listen for certain verbal commands telling it to turn on, for instance, or to connect to a certain app. Amazon says the device contains “far-field voice recognition” that can hear a person’s voice across the room, even while music is playing.
Not only does the Amazon Echo respond to commands, but it can even answer questions and read audiobooks aloud, as well as providing other on-demand services at a user’s verbal prompting. One can even control lighting in a house or adjust a programmable, WiFi-enabled thermostat like the Nest via an Amazon Echo, which for many people who are too lazy to perform these tasks using human cognition is a dream come true.
But this dream comes at a price, warn skeptics who’ve investigated the capability of the Amazon Echo to spy on people and deliver information to hackers or even government officials. Writing for ZD Net, Zack Whittaker explains that Amazon Echo’s transparency reports fail to outline everywhere where data from the device is sent, listing only Amazon’s cloud services as a source of data storage.
Is Amazon selling your family’s privacy to the federal government?
And yet, Amazon’s transparency reports admit that the company is routinely handed subpoenas, search warrants and court orders demanding information about users from government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Amazon has yet to indicate how many of these requests have actually been fulfilled, and those seeking answers have yet to find them.
“In many ways the Echo is a law enforcement dream,” writes Matt Novak for Paleo Future, a division of Gizmodo. Novak filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI back in March to find out if the federal agency had ever wiretapped an Amazon Echo, to which the agency responded that it could “neither confirm nor deny” – essentially an admission of guilt.
“Years ago agencies like the FBI would need to wiretap a phone conversation or place bugs inside homes, practices that can be cost prohibitive and labor intensive. Today, you just need some software to tap into a device’s microphone. And if that device is ‘always listening’ for a command, all the better for someone who wants to hear what’s going on.”
As of this writing, Amazon has reportedly sold some 3 million Amazon Echo speakers to unsuspecting consumers who apparently don’t mind that they’re basically paying a multinational corporation to spy on them, and possibly hand over private conversations and other information, including purchase information, music preferences and more to marketers and government infiltrators.
Smartphones and laptop computers really aren’t much better, as most of these devices these days contain both microphones and cameras that we know are capable of recording when they aren’t activated – and in some cases, when they’re not even on.
Just as important as knowing what might be hiding in our electronic devices is knowing what’s hiding in our food. The new book Food Forensics by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, tackles this subject by exploring the additives, preservatives and other toxins hiding in food and destroying our collective health – and how to avoid them!