Ask Alexa: UK MPs To Investigate Smart Speaker Security Issues

By Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
May 13, 2022 Updated: May 18, 2022

A committee of British MPs is to investigate security and data protection issues surrounding smart speaker devices such as the Amazon Echo.

The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee said it wanted to explore how smart hubs, powered by virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, have changed lives both at home and in the workplace.

Julian Knight, a Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “The innocent little box sitting inconspicuously in the corner of the room would seem to offer the ultimate in convenience, magically serving up information on demand, turning on lights or delivering a vast array of music.

“With such a smart set-up connected to the outside world however there is always the danger it will have a more sinister side, with users potentially sacrificing privacy, put at risk of cybercrime, or left open to uncovering harmful content online,” he added.

Knight said they intended to probe the “risks and rewards” of the connected tech and whether legislation governing smart technology needed to be adapted to face the “rapidly changing future.”

In recent years there has been a boom in sales of voice-activated devices such as Amazon’s Echo range, which can be used to play music, order groceries or answer general knowledge questions.

But there have been concerns raised, both in the UK and the United States, about privacy and data collection.

In 2018 an Amazon Echo device was seized by investigators probing the murder of two women at a house in Farmington, New Hampshire.

A judge ordered Amazon to release voice recordings from the device, which investigators believed could provide evidence against Timothy Verrill, 36, who was charged with the murder of Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pellegrini, who were stabbed to death in the same room as the Echo device.

The following year police in Florida sought to obtain evidence from another Echo device after Adam Crespo was accused of murdering his girlfriend Silvia Galva, whose body was impaled on a spear-tipped bed post.

In 2015 police in Arkansas seized another Echo device during the investigation into the suspected murder of Victor Collins, who was found floating in a hot tub.

Amazon only agreed to provide the data from the device after James Bates, who was suspected of killing Collins, agreed to it. The murder charge against Bates was later dropped.

Amazon, Apple, and Google all employ staff to listen in to customer voice recordings but security researchers have found no evidence the speakers routinely send back entire conservations to a remote server.

Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.