Could smart devices like Alexa be compromising your privacy?

This March 2, 2016 photo shows an Echo Dot in San Francisco. Amazon.com is introducing two devices, the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot, that are designed to amplify the role that its voice-controlled assistant Alexa plays in people’s homes and lives. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
This March 2, 2016 photo shows an Echo Dot in San Francisco. Amazon.com is introducing two devices, the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot, that are designed to amplify the role that its voice-controlled assistant Alexa plays in people’s homes and lives. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — From your Apple TV to your Nest Thermostat, smart devices help simplify day to day activities but they’re also capturing your private information.

Privacy experts like Bob Sullivan say by welcoming the new technology into your life, you’re putting your private information at risk.

“You invite a gadget into your home that can record you and then transmit something you say into your home off to a third party. There are two problems with that, one is what they call the blank check problem. It might seem very innocent to tell Alexa today that you care about the weather but you never know where that data’s going to end up,” Sullivan explained.

He continued, “Somebody could say, ‘Hey, Bob asks for the weather every day at 5:45 a.m.’ That means we know when Bob leaves his house. Maybe that means this is a good time to sell Bob things. Maybe that means this is a good time to [burglarize] Bob’s house.”

Amazon’s Echo device and its smaller version, the Echo Dot, keep track of all conversations in a log.

Sullivan said, “Anyone with access to your Amazon account could see that log. So, if someone hacks your Amazon account, they can see all the requests you’ve made of Alexa. Perhaps, ever. And once again, what could you piece together about somebody’s life [from that log]?”

Before you buy, experts say make sure you understand the layer of privacy that’s getting pulled back by the advanced technology.

“Alexa wakes up randomly. You might be having a conversation in your living room with family and Alexa hears what she thinks is a wake word from the TV in the background. And suddenly she says, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.’ And everything you’re saying after that gets recorded and sent to Amazon,” Sullivan said.

Dale Thompson, a computer networking professor at the University of Arkansas, added, “Things that you say, if it was captured by these devices, like the Echo and is at least catching parts of your conversations or the background noise. I imagine that people could maybe use that against you in the future. ”

Everything recorded by the Echo is stored in the Alexa app. Users can go into the app and delete recordings.

James Bates
James Bates is charged in connection to Victor Collins’ November 2015 death. An Amazon Echo from his home is at the center of the investigation. (KNWA)

Police investigating a murder in Bentonville, Arkansas, subpoenaed Amazon asking the company to give up stored information in an Echo device at a home where a man was found dead in November 2015.

Victor Collins, 47, was found dead in James Bates’ hot tub and police hope the smart device holds the answers they’ve been searching for.

Police also requested information from his home’s smart water meter because Bates is accused of using a garden hose to wash blood off his hot tub and patio.

Bates is currently out on bail awaiting trial in the case.

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