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And then there was Alexa: how Amazon Echo might solve a murder case

What started off as a group of friends watching a football game turned into a brutal murder. And there may have been a female witness in the scene.
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December 28, 2016

Victor Collins lay there, facing down in James Bates’ hot tub. Strangled and drowned. What started off as a group of friends watching a football game turned into a brutal murder. And there may have been a female witness in the scene: Amazon Echo’s Alexa.

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Sound like a detective novel with an absurd twist? Well, this is real life: in Bentonville, Arkansas, police think that the suspect’s Amazon Echo may have some crucial evidence from the night of the murder.

Police think that the suspect’s Amazon Echo may have some crucial evidence from the night of the murder.

According to authorities, Bates invited Collins and two other friends to his house for a football game. Collins was found dead in the morning, strangled in Bates’ hot tub, and Bates was consequently charged with first-degree murder. Bates claimed that he had gone to bed around 1 a.m., leaving Collins with the other two friends – Owen McDonald and Sean Henry – but it was later confirmed by McDonald and his wife that McDonald had left Bates and Collins around 12:30 a.m.

Now, the interesting part is Bates had a few IoT devices around the house, including an Amazon Echo. Police records show that this Amazon Echo may have been used to control music and that Alexa may be a key witness to this crime. Technically, the Amazon Echo has seven microphones that are always listening – listening for your wake-up command. This means that police could use its data to see whether it has recorded anything from the night of the murder. Accordingly, police have issued a warrant to Amazon, asking for the said data in order to help prosecute Bates, but Amazon is reluctant:

[We will not release customer information] without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

The Echo device has been seized by the Bentonville police, and although it’s unclear whether Alexa will speak what may have happened that night, this is just one example of how Internet-connected devices around us may one day become a key component in solving crimes.

Do you have IoT devices at home? Let us know by leaving a comment below!