Amazon Echo To Spy on Students
Last week, Amazon and the Saint Louis University struck a deal to install 2300 Echo Dots in every student residence hall room or student apartment on campus. Unlike retail versions purchased on Amazon’s website, SLU’s model has unique firmware that, according to our source, a former Amazon engineer and company whistle-blower, violates privacy laws by collecting data without the user’s consent.
Moreover, he says the Amazon-SLU agreement has a silent third partner: the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He claims to have seen a draft of the contract and an early revision of the source code embedded in the devices, which he insists will be used to spy on and incriminate students, rather than merely answering mundane questions such as “Where is the library located?” or allowing a student to order a pizza via a simple voice command.
“The Dots are being installed for one reason, to determine who is violating campus policy or breaking regional, state, and federal laws. Contrary to advertised material, these devices are always on, the microphones are always recording. If the device is unplugged, battery backup kicks in, recording everything said. The microphones are sensitive enough to record conversations from some distance. Anything recorded is sent to the university’s central server,” our source said.
More disturbing, the Echo Dots are pre-programmed with a student’s personally identifiable information—social security number, arrest records, previous addresses, date of birth, known family, friends, and associates—before the student even sets foot in the dorm. Each unit is able to identify the voice and speech patterns of sixteen persons and is programmed to key in on a university-approved list of 8,000 trigger words.
“Say, for example, Johnny and his friends are partying in the dorm room, and Johnny inadvertently blurts out ‘man, I’m so high on this weed.’ The dot will immediately recognize weed is slang for marijuana and notify campus police and the St. Louis police department. Next thing Johnny sees, a SWAT team breaks down his door and hauls him and his friends off to jail. Hell, even a simple cigarette could get them in trouble,” our source said.
Like many campuses, LSU’s dorms are smoke-free. The LSU echo dots are hardwired to detect if a student tampers with smoke detectors. If a student simply says, “pass me a cig,” campus security will arrive on scene and the student could face expulsion. Other trigger words, our source said, include rifles, hunting, pressure cookers, pills, medicine, cheating, sex, and, curiously enough, inflammatory comments about Hillary Clinton or Barack Hussein Obama.
“The programming suggests the university wants to fill a quota for expulsions and/or arrests,” our source said.
Yet the implications go much deeper. If the Echo Dot detects a couple is about to engage in sexual activity, it may notify a rape crisis counselor, who, with the university’s full consent, can barge into any room at any time and ask the female whether she had been coerced into sexual activity.
“Thought crimes are next,” our source said in closing. “We are truly living in an Orwellian society, and Amazon, and it partners, are creating it.”