Could The Alexa By Your Bed Help Solve A Murder?

Alexa, call the police.

Home assistants and smart speakers are popping up in more and more homes, helping us out with the mundane and not so mundane aspects of life. Falling into the not so mundane category, Florida police are using audio from two Amazon Alexa devices to try and solve a murder case

Not the witness you’d expect

The case involves a woman, Silvia Galva, who was killed after a domestic dispute ended with her being impaled through the chest with a wooden spear. Her boyfriend, Adam Crespo, has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, and says that her death was an accident after he pulled her off the bed and she landed on the spear. 

There wasn’t anybody else in the room at the time, but police are hoping that the two Alexa devices near by will serve as a witness. Their theory is that if at some point during the domestic dispute, a wake word was said, then one or both of the devices may have recorded the fight and tell police whether this case is actually a murder or not. 

Just after someone thought of using the Alexa, probably

Amazon was contacted to see what they thought about all this, and a representative made a statement that said Amazon “does not disclose customer information in response to government demands unless we’re required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order.”

Yeah ok, makes sense

Basically they’re not going to hand over audio unless they’re legally obliged to. It’s a solid rule to follow, but one that they may have to look at more and more often. We’ve already seen cases of smart home assistants helping out in crimes before this one. Most recently audio from an Alexa was used in solving a double murder in New Hampshire, and a domestic violence incident in New Mexico

The Silvia Galva case is still ongoing, and will be definitely one to keep an eye on. However this particular case turns out, it almost certainly won’t be the last time we see a headline that involves the words “Alexa” and “murder”.

The Sentencing Of Aiia Maasarwe's Killer Should Signify A Shift In Our Blame

It should have never happened.

On January 16th this year, Aiia Maasarwe’s body was found in a Melbourne street. She had been beaten with a metal pole, sexually assaulted, set on fire, and left for dead. She had just gotten off the tram, and was calling her sister when she was attacked. She was only 21.

A billboard along the street leading to the mosque in Aiia Maarsawe’s home town in Israel.
Credit: AAP Image/Tessa Fox

Yesterday, the man who murdered her, Codey Herrmann, was sentenced to 36 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2049 after serving 30 years of that sentence. He’ll be 51 years old by then.

We’ve heard this story time and time again. As of this morning, 58 Australian women have been murdered since the beginning of 2019. Aiia was the first victim  of violence for the year, but sadly she was definitely not the last. 

People gather for a vigil for Aiia Maasarwe on the steps of Parliament House, Melbourne.
Credit: AAP Image/Stefan Postles

As well as those 58 women, 20 children across the country have been killed too. The youngest was a Victorian child who was only three months old. 

Standing outside court, Aiia’s dad Saeed Maasarwe told reporters that “our compass is not revenge. We think all the time, our mind, our compass is positive, is not negative”. 

“This is not our compass, this is not our focus, but to care for the society, for the people, for the ladies [to be able to] go out and go back home,” he said.

Saeed Maasarwe, the father of murdered exchange student, Aiia Maasarwe.
Credit: AAP Image/James Ross

He also said that he hoped their experience made authorities think more about preventing crimes rather than responding to them after they’ve already happened. 

The attack on Aiia was a crime of opportunity that never should have happened. It’s an important point about prevention, but we have so many organisations working to prevent situations like this that it’s sometimes easy to forget that they shouldn’t be the ones bearing any responsibility. Front line services do their absolute best with what they’re given, but they can’t hold any blame when tragedies like this happen.

People gather for a vigil for Aiia Maasarwe on the steps of Parliament House, Melbourne.
Credit: AAP Image/Stefan Postles

We’re hearing more now about what the court was told about Herrmann’s life. He had apparently lead a life of “extreme physical and emotional depravation“, and had diagnoses for drug-induced psychosis and severe personality disorder. The judge described his life before the murder as full of “profound chaos and despair”. 

Codey Herrmann arrives at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne.
Credit: AAP Image/James Ross

Herrmann’s background was taken into consideration when he was sentenced, but it’s important that we don’t start speaking about these aspects of his life as if they’re an excuse. A lot of people have managed to get through horrible circumstances in their life without murdering a random woman walking home at night. 

People leave floral tributes where the body of Isreali student Aiia Maasarwe was found.
Credit: AAP Image/Ellen Smith

I never quite know how to wrap these articles up. I can’t say that I hope something like this never happens again, because we all know it’s just a matter of time. I can’t try and find a silver lining amongst it all, because everything involved in these cases are just a horrible tragedy. I can’t tell you to stay safe, because I shouldn’t have to tell anybody that. 

I think I’ll just say the same thing I said when the news of Aiias death first broke: Vale, Aiia Maasarwe. You deserved better.

Does Facebook Really Have To Be A Necessary Evil In Our Lives?

It might be necessary, but does it have to be evil?

I spent a lot of my time last night watching the video of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez absolutely skewering Facebook founder Mark “Definitely A Human And Not A Lizard Man” Zuckerberg. It was a fantastic night, in case you were wondering.

While it’s great fun to watch one of the richest and most powerful men in the world blurt out such profound gems as “I think lying is bad”, and laugh about how bad his weird Caesar inspired haircut is, we should probably look at the bigger picture.

Zuckerberg was facing congress to defend Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, Libra. He called the current method we have of paying for stuff “outdated,” and used that as a reason to tell everyone how much we need Libra. Now, I know sweet f-all about how cryptocurrency works, and maybe my debit card isn’t as cool as currency that zooms around the internet, but my debit card is the one getting me groceries so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But I digress. 

Once Zuckerberg had finished implying that physical money is stupid, questioning turned to some of the other business that Facebook has been involved with. He was asked about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, why Facebook won’t fact check political ads themselves, and why some of the fact checkers they do have are tied to white supremacists

I don’t need to tell you that Facebook is an incredibly powerful tool. The bottom line is that for such a powerful company, they seem to get away with a lot of shady stuff with a slap on the wrist. We all know what they’re up to, but we’re still using their website.

I’ve heard this explained away over and over again by people saying that Facebook is just a “necessary evil”. 

Let’s address the “necessary” part of that phrase first. Sure, we could all delete Facebook and it would probably solve these problems, but it would also get rid of the benefits we get from social media. Like it or not, we do get a sense of connection from Facebook. We keep in touch with friends and family who live far away, and join all sorts of groups full of people with similar interests. I’m in a Facebook support group for people with dermatillomania, and it makes me realise I’m not alone or nuts. 

Also, I’ve watched bosses in previous jobs search the names of people who handed us a resume, and get suspicious if they can’t find an account. So I’m going to go with Facebook being a necessity in 2019. Sue me.

It doesn’t have to be evil, though. 

Saying that Facebook is stuck in its ways and can’t be changed is just not true. Mark Zuckerberg created it originally as a way to rank the attractiveness of women on his college campus, so it’s not like the site hasn’t changed at all since the beginning. It’s gone from being all sorts of creepy and gross on a small scale, to being all sorts of terrifying on a massive scale.

It’s absolutely possible for Facebook to give white supremacist-tied organisations the boot, and to fact check political ads that run on their platform. They’re probably going to harvest our data until the end of time, but they don’t have to work with companies like Cambridge Analytica who are going to do dodgy things with it. 

Just because Facebook is ridiculously massive doesn’t mean we have to accept their behaviour and move on. Mark Zuckerberg should make better choices. 

Oh, and do more research next time you come up against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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