Alexa, Do You Have eDiscovery?

The 35 Best Alexa Commands for Your Amazon Echo

For Christmas, Santa brought me an Amazon Echo Show for my home office.  As you can imagine, I have been saying Alexa's name a lot as I get familiar with this new gadget in my life.  With these new digital personal assistants sitting in our homes, I wondered exactly what kind of data Alexa, Siri, Google and other similar devices might have inside of them.

Most of these smart assistants collect the user's name, time zone, phone number, location and IP address but Alexa gathers more user data than the others.  Alexa also takes note of user's address, age, voice characteristics, payment information and personal interests.  


So if you are looking for electronically stored information in your case, you should also look for these devices sitting innocently on a table behind a plant.  We are already aware of pertinent data being available on computers, tablets and smartphones but now they could be sitting near us.  Most of these devices are constantly "listening" since they are activated by a "wake word".  These devices also have other skills and abilities which can be enabled by the user.  You really need to look up some of these things that they can do.  

Can these devices be used to spy on someone?  Yes, they absolutely can.  It doesn't take much of a tech savvy person to figure out how to listen in on someone's conversation with one of these devices as well as recording a conversation.  With this in mind, you could have some evidence in a place that you never thought of before and with over six million Amazon Echo devices sold worldwide, there is a good chance they are capturing criminal behavior.

In November 2015, a man in Arkansas had friends over at his house to watch football.  The next morning one of his friends was found dead in a hot tub.  Police filed search warrants with Amazon, requesting any information that may have been recorded by the suspect's Echo speaker.  It was reported that Amazon refused to give law enforcement access to their servers until the suspect himself decided to hand over the data.

The amount of data on these devices is limited because they have small caches which are constantly overwritten since the device is constantly detecting their "wake word" and logging into their device logs.  Data such as the user's wifi network, the wake word the user has configured for their device and the alarms they have set.  

Other types of data you could collect from a smart device include:

  • Voice History - This section shows the user's voice interactions with the device.  You can filter by date and choose an entry to see what the device has heard you say and how the device responded.  You can even listen to the voice recording of each request.  All of the user's voice recordings are saved by default but they can choose to delete them at any time and there are a number of ways to do that.
  • Smart Home Device History - Shows you information about the status and use of the user's smart home devices such as the state of their lights (on or off).  You can review this information for the most recent 30 days, choose to delete some or all of it or request the entire smart home history and insights about the user's smart device use.
  • History of Detected Sounds - shows recordings of events user has opted to have their smart device detect such as sounds of glass breaking or smoke alarms.  They can be filtered by date, select and entry to see details, and choose to delete some or all of them.  These histories be kept for 3-18 months.
  • Skill Permissions - There are also thousands of "skills" created by third-party developers which can be enabled on the device.  When enabling these skills, users are also exchanging personal information with that third party.  For example, a hotel booking skill might ask for the user's email address to send them information about their confirmation.  
As you can see, these personal assistants can possibly obtain important data about us and our activities.  Although the devices hold limited data, their cloud storage location could store much more data.

As an example, if you wanted to see a user's Amazon order history, if you have access to the user's account, you can log on and download shipment, return and refund activity for all of their orders.  You would then be prompted to select start and end date (or choose to download all) and download to a .CSV file which can then be opened in Microsoft Excel.

Smart devices have made our lives easier but also another portal into our privacy.  It is good to know about this potential source of electronically stored information so that you can determine whether it will help or hurt you in litigation.

If you or your law firm need assistance in obtaining or processing data for smart devices, please contact a litigation support professional.


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