Contact 2: Understanding the information your smart devices gather

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – From Amazon to Apple, people are attached to their devices, and those devices seem attached to everything.

Smart cars, smart homes, and smart phones are changing life as we know it. Amazon's Echo personal assistant became pop culture parody on Saturday Night Live. Jokes aside, we’ve seen the frustrating side of this technology.

Imagine the surprise when four pounds of cookies and a $170 doll house showed up at a Texas family’s front door, ordered during that young girl’s conversation with Alexa.

“The first question I think folks need to ask themselves is, ‘Do I want this particular device to be connected,’” said John Verdi, Vice President of Policy at the Future of Privacy Forum.

Verdi says the microphones on our smart devices are listening, so we have to be smart about controlling their access to our lives.

“What data is being transmitted and what data is being used really depends on the device,” Verdi said. “They can offload that information from the device to servers on the internet that are either controlled by the companies or third parties and there’s some processing that can happen there.”

But is that an invasion of privacy?

It’s question recently debated during a murder trial in Arkansas.

James Bates was charged with murder after finding a friend floating in his hot tub after a night of drinking. Police found blood, broken bottles, signs of a struggle, and an Amazon Echo inside his home. The prosecutor in that case tried to force Amazon to hand over any recordings leading up to, during and after the murder.

Attorney Terry Sullivan explained the legal complications.

“I think what’s going to have to happen is practicing lawyers like myself are going to have to be on their feet and be able to try and protect the constitutional rights of somebody who owns these things,” he said.

It’s one reason Verdi believes legislators should act fast.

“I think it’s really time for folks at the federal level to be thinking about comprehensive, baseline, common sense privacy law,” he said.

So how can you control what your devices hear and see? Start by learning about how the data on your device is connected. Look at your app settings. They offer different options as well as privacy controls. The same goes for your operating systems. There are also third-party programs you can use to control your data.

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Contact 2 has resolved consumer complaints totaling millions of dollars over the years. Those cases have not only brought peace of mind to the consumers who asked Contact 2 for help, but also shed light on allegations of deception and wrongdoing levied against businesses, contractors and government agencies.

Our team focuses on gathering the facts about what happened. The process involves seeking out both sides of the story. It’s not always what consumers want to hear, but we have an obligation to be fair to the entity accused of causing the problem. Working to clearly understand the details is an important part of the job. Sometimes these cases can be resolved quickly. Other times, Contact 2 will spend weeks or months getting to the bottom of the problem. We appreciate the patience of those who’ve asked us to help them.

While dealing with the complaints of individual consumers is a big part of the job for Contact 2, we’re also dedicated to informing consumers of the latest scams, rip-offs and fraud schemes. Technology has made it easier than ever for criminals to target consumers. Contact 2 monitors reports of this activity around the world to help arm the public with tools to protect their personal information and hard- earned money. We share that information with consumers on-air and online.

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