The Internet of Snitches

The world seems more and more like a “Black Mirror” episode. Our appliances can no longer be trusted. Prosecutors in Arkansas are seeking data gathered by an Amazon Echo speaker in the home of a guy being investigated for murder.

Favorite headline from last week’s string of stories about this: “Alexis a Witness to Murder?”

If so, why didn’t Alexis do something about it? Could Alexis be an accessory?

The news reports are unclear about what prosecutors think Alexis might testify to, but it looks like lawyers soon are going to have to advise clients to refrain from confessing crimes to any seemingly inanimate object.

The Internet of Things may be becoming the Internet of Snitches.

It’s bad enough that hackers can get to your data through your garage door opener or popcorn popper, but now those labor-saving devices may be turning on us.

Should something be done about this?

Improved crime-fighting, after all, is probably a good thing, but I can see difficulties.

For example, how do you cross-examine an Internet-enabled refrigerator?

“Isn’t it true, Mr. Amana, that you once summoned paramedics because you thought someone said, ‘I scream,’ when they wanted ice cream?”

Imagine the witness with moisture condensing all over it.

And why isn’t there intelligent-device/human confidentiality?

If you order a sex toy via Amazon speaker, you certainly expect a modicum of privacy (aside from the manufacturer, the seller, the packager and the delivery person chuckling at your door).

If nothing else, you should be thinking of drafting confidentiality agreements with your appliances. These relationships need to be kept professional.

Needless to say, your sex toys should never be Internet-enabled.

Also last week, the online magazine Slate ran a piece noting another unintended consequence of technology. It seems that driverless cars “will also change the way we die.”

I was kind of hoping that meant we won’t be dying in car crashes, but that wasn’t the point. It seems that if we don’t have people conveniently crashing into things or each other, we may have a shortage of organ donations.

So the lives saved in cars will at least partially be offset by the lives lost for want of transplantable organs.

Then there were the stories last week about how ransomware can lock up “Smart TVs.”

This, of course, invites the query: How smart could these TVs be?

Be that as it may, apparently, a document showed up on a Smart TV screen that pretended to be a letter from the FBI, demanding a $500 penalty fee for looking at “forbidden pornographic sites.”

The letter claimed that location information and “snapshots containing your face” had been uploaded to a government data center.

Sounds perfectly plausible these days.

You may want to consider going back to listening to AM radio on your front porch.

All of this is kind of depressing, but there may be silver linings for some of you.

For example, if you’re intent on committing a crime and you know your ice cream maker or iron could testify against you, why not get them on your side?

Record your voice going about your business and talking to yourself about how law-abiding you are and then play the recording for your appliances while you’re out committing adultery or mayhem.

You’ve got alibi witnesses that won’t break down on the stand (unless there’s a malfunction or they haven’t been recharged lately).

I’ve seen enough mysteries on TV to know this will work as long as there isn’t a super detective around.