What Apple got right but Amazon is getting wrong

“Law and technology frequently operate at cross purposes. Take, for example, our embrace of electronic devices as our closest companions and most trusted confidantes. To law enforcement officers and agencies, that makes them valuable sources of evidence,” Bruce Abramson writes for CNBC. “2016 opened with a high-profile device-related dispute between Apple and the FBI; it closed with one pitting Amazon against a local police department. And though the stakes were far higher in the Apple case, when it comes to headline principles, Apple’s refusal to cooperate got public policy right; if Amazon sticks to its guns it will get public policy wrong.”

“In Apple’s case, the stakes were particularly high. The FBI believed that an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook—one of the radical Islamic terrorists responsible for the San Bernadino massacre—might reveal useful information about other terrorists planning additional attacks,” Bruce Abramson writes for CNBC. “The matter implicating Amazon’s Echo is prosaic, by comparison. While investigating a homicide committed in a private home in Bentonville, Arkansas, the police noticed that the homeowner—and prime suspect—was something of an electronics junkie. Among his devices was an Amazon Echo, an “always listening” device that, when triggered, records ambient sound and stores the recording on Amazon’s cloud. The police thought that selected recordings might help fill some gaps in their investigation. Amazon refused to hand them over.”

Abramson writes, “The difference in the principles at stake explains why Apple was right in refusing to help the FBI save lives from a potential, imminent terrorist attack, while Amazon’s refusal to help clear an isolated crime whose victim is already dead is a mistake… When the government is empowered to commandeer and redirect private resources in the name of the common good, freedom and human rights suffer greatly. As unobjectionable — and even laudable — as the FBI’s request may have been, it is inconsistent with the cause of freedom. The Bentonville police, on the other hand, are simply asking Amazon to turn over data already in Amazon’s possession.”

Read more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: Exactly.

Amazon Echo murder case spotlights question of what ‘always on’ actually means – December 28, 2016
FBI wants to get into locked Apple iPhone of Minnesota Islamic terrorist Dahir Adan – October 7, 2016
Apple CEO Tim Cook touts encryption at Senator Orrin Hatch’s Utah Tech Tour – October 3, 2016
Feckless FBI unable to unlock iPhone, even with a ‘fingerprint unlock warrant’ – May 12, 2016
FBI’s Comey says agency paid more than $1 million to access San Bernadino iPhone – April 21, 2016
Nothing significant found on San Bernardino’s terrorist’s iPhone – April 14, 2016
FBI director confirms hack only works on older iPhones that lack Apple’s Secure Enclave – April 7, 2016
Apple responds to FBI: ‘This case should have never been brought’ – March 29, 2016


  1. Disagree.

    1. This also is about setting precedent. As ever.
    2. The fear factor on amazon behalf is real. If people become aware that their giant Alexa headphones are not only listening but also RECORDING, they’ll stop buying, hence amazon loses money and access to people’s private information.

    1. Right, but that’s kind of the point of the article. What Apple got right was that it didn’t have direct access to the data. The government wanted to require Apple to dedicate resources (and engineers) to do a job for them. Apple’s case had a whole other component aside from privacy.

      What Amazon got wrong is that they had the data.

      If Amazon had been able to say “we simply don’t have user data” then they’d be in a better position.

      If Amazon has the data then users must worry not only about the government getting access to it, but also what Amazon might do with the data (including selling it), as well as any leaks/hacking of the data.

    2. The Amazon issue is not about setting precedent, that was set a long time ago. Every company that stores user information has one time or another turned that over to the police if and when a proper warrant was issued by the court. Even Apple has stated as such and release an annual report on law enforcement requests.

      As you stated, this is really about Amazon hiding the fact that their devices may actually be always on and always recording what their users are saying, which is the exact opposite of what they claim. Amazon loses this, they could very well be dragged into a damning lawsuit forever tarnishing their image. Pulling the smart speaker market with them.

    3. Well put anon.

      A great response from Amazon would be to NOT keep recordings of customers via the Echo. The sad problem is that there are marketing maniacs out there who demand every damned little data point they can get their hands on in order to bombard victims with targeted advertising. I’d enjoy seeing such people wiped off the planet. The least Amazon can do is kill their feed of such data and meanwhile kill any opportunity for anyone, with a warrant or not, to access recorded data older than THE MOMENT.

    4. Unfortunately Apple rents its cloud from such trustworthy outfits as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Apple’s partnership with IBM has achieved nothing but a few business oriented IOS apps. It actually looks like IBM is losing the cloud services market. Big customers like the US government are moving away from IBM to lower cost providers… Which are the three companies Apple uses.

      It is amazing to see Apple be so completely unable to compete in the clouds, while also being completely unwilling to offer personal computing free from Big Brother as Apple used to advertise.

      Hey Apple: how about offering secure personal cloud storage for people to use for saving their stuff cost effectively and securely. Stop trying to sell subscriptions.

  2. Apple did not and does not have access to data stored on your phone. Amazon does not store information on the Echo in any of its variations. The data is stored in the cloud and in Amazon’s possession.

    The people should know this data does exist and is not on a personal device with the right to privacy. Then they can act accordingly, which may include, not participating in using the Echo at all.

  3. Don’t think I would want a device listening in all the time. Law Enforcement will be technology’s greatest enemy and disincentive to own certain devices. You would never know when one of your devices might be used against you if they were allowed unfettered access. We never had better security than in the old days pre-Internet and mobile devices. A network in and of itself is an inherent disruption of privacy. Skynet anyone?

    1. Three reasons why I do not have an Echo or similar device from Google:

      1) It is a Google product and I do not trust the company
      2) Google sells/profits from my data
      3) I am leery of an “always on” product from any company, even Apple. But I am much more concerned if that product comes from Google.

      1. Yep, that about covers it. It’s funny since in many respects when the future showed up parts of it were fraught with peril. The future isn’t as rosy as we thought it might be. And that’s because the more nefarious elements of humanity will always try to take advantage of and ruin a good thing.

    1. That’s not relevant at all.

      I could put all kinds of files on a server and allow public access to them without encryption. I can put similar files on the very same server without public access and have it be fully encrypted. Or for that matter, not store the files on the server to begin with as is the case with Apple and Siri.

    2. What are you talking about? AWS is a platform for providing cloud services. iCloud is a completely proprietery set of services built on top of AWS installed at Apple’s data centers.

      And Amazon storing echo user information in the cloud has absolutely nothing to with AWS.

      1. I don’t think AWS runs on any server farm that is not Amazon owned. Apple does have their own server farms and they handle a portion of the iCloud service, but I doubt AWS is running on any servers there.

  4. Does no one else notice the phrase “when triggered’ in both the article above and the source article? Alexa does not record everything, any reasonable techie would realize the massive amounts of data storage required to perform such a feat. Let’s say even if they rotated out the storage weekly, that is still way too much resources to dedicate to storing audio, let alone all the data that would have to streaming from the device to AWS eating a chunk of your bandwidth. Does anyone here use Alexa and think it actually is listening for anything other than the keyword “Alexa” locally before creating a connection to AWS to process the command?

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.