Amazon Echo, Google Home Devices Raise Privacy Rights Questions

Legal experts say Congress and the states need to step in to protect Americans’ privacy rights from the proliferation of voice-activated personal assistant devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, after a murder case in Arkansas raised questions about how much the devices are hearing — and whether the government can demand access to its recordings.

Prosecutors in Benton County, Arkansas, demanded Echo recordings from a home where a man was found dead in a hot tub. Prosecutors said they hoped the recording would shed light on how he died as they pursue a murder case against the homeowner.

A legal battle broke out earlier this year over the request, with Amazon balking at the prosecutors’ demand. But the murder suspect cut the fight short, saying he is innocent and agreeing to let the lawyers examine the information.

The case, though, has forced consumer advocates to address how much access the devices have into the inner sanctums of Americans’ homes.

Known as “always-on” devices, Echo and Home are supposed to be activated by a specific spoken word and then follow the commands that come next.

Device manufacturers have taken pains to tell customers that nobody’s listening in without their knowledge.

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