Solve Any Crime by Dinnertime

“We’ll solve any crime by dinnertime” -Detectives Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen 

I have to admit, there is something about crime scene investigation television and movies that I absolutely love. I used to tell my parents growing up that I wanted to be an FBI Agent someday, and while that may have not come true, to me there’s no better night than curling up on the couch watching some Dexter! The role that social media and digital technologies have been playing in the crime scene (no pun intended) in recent years has completely changed the roles of both committing and solving crimes. I’m fascinated with the extremes people go through to find out information, whether it’s by Facebook stalking or purely hacking into a victim’s data. I’ve outlined some examples that really made me bat an eye to my personal security, but also give me hope that we are on the right track to win the battle in fighting crime. 

Pros:

There’s no denying that social media and emerging technologies are providing us with features and data that we haven’t had access to in the past. In actual crime investigations, crimes are literally being solved based off social media posts. Detectives, Reporters, and really anyone with Internet access is now able to piece together crimes based off photos that have been posted on readily accessible social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Watching Snapchat or Instagram stories have been used to understand chronologically what events have taken place during a victim’s day. Twitter has also been used by detectives to spot potential criminals before they act based on just a few sentences of data. Search histories and user data additionally help identify criminals. 

An even more prolific example of solving crime revolves around our favorite giant, Amazon. Now, if you own an Amazon Echo, better known as Alexa, you know your voice is recorded so that it can accurately respond to what you are asking. The recordings are stored within its processing system and can be reviewed at a later time, according to Amazon. While Amazon’s system collecting this data could endlessly be debated revolving around breaching privacy rights, the Echo has none-the-less been used multiple times now in court to provide evidence in murder convictions. Whether or not you think your devices are listening according to the settings you provide, the moral is you never know. You could look at this as violating your rights, but I also am beyond impressed in the good it could do for a jury to have this type of evidence, for instance. 

Cons:

With the good, also comes the ugly. The following summaries are just two examples of how cybersecurity and the threats of hackers today is more worrisome than ever. 

I felt incredibly left out that I wasn’t part of the Apple X fad last year and what I thought was such an amazing feature of facial recognition. This feature literally epitomizes my younger self stepping into that role of solving crimes. While Apple has facial recognition, Samsung also has a phone with an iris scanning feature that allows for equivalent results.  While this iris scanning feature was supposed to be decently indestructible, hacker’s results proved differently. A certain bank in Europe was allowing all bank transactions to be released to a customer by using iris scanning on their mobile app. Hacker’s found a pretty straightforward way around this by zooming in on an individual’s Facebook photo to clearly get a visual of their eye or even simpler, by using a contact lens. Believe it or not both these methods seemed slightly ridiculous to me, but have completely changed my feelings on the safety of any type of facial recognition. Buyers beware! 

Another slightly terrifying technological example flew my direction by the way of my many pregnant friends. Just recently, a family in Texas was using the Nest camera to monitor their newborn baby. The Nest, connected through Wi-Fi, allows consumers to watch their baby in this instance, through an app on their smart devices. The Texas family was awoken one evening with the sound of a man’s voice over the monitor conveying disturbing messages including that if they attempted to head to the baby’s room he would kidnap their child. When the parents arrived in the baby’s room moments later, the baby was safe and sound, which is when they realized they’d been hacked over Wi-Fi. To know that someone could be watching you because of your Internet and video connection is distressing. This is one way I will not be using technology in the future. Good old-fashioned baby monitors without Wi-Fi will suffice. 

While there are many scary ways digital technologies are being used, I’m still on the pros side of solving crimes with what has emerged! I hope that technology and social media can be used more and more to provide justice to those who deserve it. 

On another note, if you haven’t yet watched the new hit Netflix show, “You,” maybe refrain if you’re nervous about what social media can result in. 

10 comments

  1. You pointed out some really great points. I really like how you give both pros and cons. Technology, specifically social media and data collection, are truly a double-edged sword. I think an interesting part of this dilemma is who holds the rights to the information. While the top tech companies are arguably Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook, each company has a distinct viewpoint on data privacy. For example, Alphabet values the ownership of data and how to optimize different processes using data, which is highlighted by your story about Nest (an Alphabet subsidiary). Facebook also has proven that they are willing to leverage their user’s data to make a profit. In contrast, Apple is known for their user experience. This was proven in the San Bernardino case, where, after a mass shooting, the FBI demanded that Apple open a terrorist’s iPhone in an effort to find leads on the attack. Apple was so adamant about not opening the phone that they took their stance public. The topic was debate was argued in Congress, in the media, and in court. Ultimately, the phone was opened by the FBI, but Apple maintained their user’s privacy and didn’t intervene. Each of these companies could potentially play a large part of our investigations, but their influence will depend on each company’s core values.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Wow, that really is incredible that Apple held their stance to such extremes. I do understand why however, otherwise their policy wouldn’t be a policy. It is so interesting to see how all these companies really do differ on what privacy means. After looking into this topic more, I might start reading the fine print on privacy and data collection before investing in any new devices I’m looking to buy.

  2. This is a really intersting topic and something that seems to be coming more and more into play. As impressive as it is that ones digital presence can lead to helping determine whether a person is innocent or guilty, the fact that almost anything and everything posted on social media, whether permanent or not, and what might be said around smart home objects is stored off in some data bank is also somewhat alarming. I think you did a really good job talking about the benefits and shortcomings that exist in this space, as well as raising the question on who can access it and how and what information should be stored. Allie also makes a good point in her comment about how a company’s core values and their promises to their customers can play a role in how willing they are to assist in investigations. It is going to be interesting to see how the use of social media and technology in criminal investigations continues to evolve, as well as how security measures with these technologies changes in order to protect those using them from getting into harms way.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Thanks, Keagan for your response! I am curious to see if more companies will come to terms with more equitable standards in what they consider ok with privacy. Also what a company believes in comparison to what the public thinks could be very different. It’s true that there are good examples out there of how the stored data has helped crimes in this specific topic, but I wouldn’t want to willingly have all my data stored for a rainy day.

  3. First of all, great image choices. They added humor to an already interesting topic. Like Allie mentioned above, I think the implications that this issue has on the ethics of major social media and tech companies (and even startups) is a really interesting moral dilemma. More and more, companies are having to make a definitive policy about data privacy and stick to it (no matter who’s data may be in question). And if companies haven’t decided where they stand on privacy, this is a major issue they need to confront now.
    However, this is also something that users have to think about too. When you agree to the terms and conditions (most of which no one really reads anyway), you are agreeing to whatever data disclosures/uses Facebook, Instagram, etc. has stated. If in the fine print, Amazon says they can record your Alexa conversations and give them to whoever is willing to pay, then that’s a term you’ve got to be willing agree to before you turn on your Echo. In addition, users have to understand that even when we think we are only posting to our friends, we really have no control over the spread of an image once it’s out there. For some the consequences are only mild embarrassment, while for others photos and videos of their actions could lead to convictions.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      It’s so true isn’t it! No-one reads the long and terribly bland text that provides all the terms and policies. I honestly may start paying closer attention to this. Companies want our data of course! This is how they figure us out and decide what works and what doesn’t. It’s one thing to provide me with potential items to buy on the side bar of my laptop screen, but it’s another when my voice is being recorded through Alexa. The whole thing is making me nervous.

  4. First of all, I am also a huge fan of Dexter and You. I really liked that you outlined the pros and cons of using social media and technology to solve crimes, and the baby monitor hacking truly disturbed me. I agree that technological advancements certainly make solving crimes easier and more accurate than in the past, but committing crimes such as hacking, is also a grave problem. I think that certain personal items, like baby monitors, are sometimes better when less technology is involved, to avoid any hackers or potential problems. Overall I think that the pros outweigh the cons, but we need to be weary of those cons. Very interesting topic!

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      You said it perfectly! It is smart to evaluate each item separately and the type of technology that is actually being used with each one. Because there are such risks out there today, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a position that would compromise myself or my family.

  5. Great blog on an incredibly interesting topic! As someone who is a huge fan of true crime shows and podcasts, and has a Google Mini, this topic hit a little close to home. It’s fascinating to see how law enforcement is adapting to the technology that is coming out, and it’s pretty incredible that they have been able to do so so quickly. At the same time, as you mentioned, bad actors have adapted to the technology and continually find ways to utilize it to their own advantage. About a week ago, an Apple user identified a bug that allowed hackers to eavesdrop on you through FaceTime, even if you didn’t answer the phone (https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2019/01/29/its-stupidly-easy-to-spy-on-iphones-with-apples-facetime-bugbut-its-still-illegal/#2e64cd3d504a). The technology that is supposed to make our lives easier is quickly being used against us. It’s hard to know the best way to protect ourselves, but until more sophisticated technology is released, I’ll continue taping over the camera on my MacBook and iPad, at the very least.

  6. Wow, just wow!

    I am in the small and rare camp that totally support your pro’s section. I have always believed that if you don’t want something seen, heard, or used against you then just don’t act on it. IE avoid photo scandals by not taking any. So to me I think the authorities SHOULD be able to use these devices to try and track down criminals. Think about how many unsolved cases could be cracked if recordings existed.

    That said, I cannot believe the Nest story. Or rather I believe it all too easily and I, like you, am not one who would want to use such technology for fear of hacking and a similar situation.

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