Your smartphone may not be impartial, but it is a hell of a good observer.
An Alabama man found out the hard way this week when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Monday for killing his wife. While there were numerous factors leading to Jeff West’s reckless manslaughter conviction in November, AL.com, an Alabama news site, reports that data from his smartphone’s health app played a role.
West reportedly told law enforcement that he went to sleep around 10:30 p.m. on the night his wife died in 2018. However, according to data from his phone’s health app, he took 18 steps between 11:03 p.m. and 11:10 p.m.
His late wife Kat West was 42 years old.
This is not the first time data from a health tracker has been cited in a murder case. In the event of a death in 2016, police relied on the victim’s Apple Watch data to refute the allegations of their accused killer. In 2017, Fitbit data contradicted a man’s story about his wife’s death. Apple Heath app data was also used as evidence following a murder in Germany in 2016.
In particular, it wasn’t just Jeff West’s phone data that appeared to contradict his claims. AL.com reports that Dr. Stephen Boudreau, an Alabama Forensics Division pathologist who testified during the trial, stated that the blow to Kat West’s head was likely not caused by a fall. Instead, he noted that whatever delivered the punch “had an edge, but not sharp”.
An absinthe bottle was found near Kat West’s body.
The tragic murder of Kat West and the subsequent conviction of Jeff West are a reminder that our technology is always running in the background – a fact the police won’t soon forget.
While this might have brought justice in the case of Kat West, it is easy to imagine that similar data could be used in entirely different ways. A man from Gainesville, Florida, Zachary McCoy, has been investigated for burglary just because his phone location data put him close to a crime scene. (He was on an innocent bike ride.)
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“Little did I know that by providing location services, Google is also keeping a log of where I’m going,” McCoy told NBC News. “I’m sure that is included in the Terms of Service, but I’ve never read through those walls of Google.” Text, and neither do I think most people do. “