November 26, 2022

Amazon is always watching

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(CNN Business) — A television that knows when you enter and leave the room. A device that monitors your breathing pattern while you sleep. An enhanced voice assistant that shows how much it knows about your everyday life.

Last week, at an invitation-only press event, Amazon unveiled a long list of product updates ahead of the holiday shopping season that seem designed to further embed its gadgets and services into every corner of our homes with the goal of apparent to make everything a little easier. But the event was also another reminder of how closely Amazon’s many products keep an eye on us.

At previous events, Amazon has sounded alarm bells with obvious examples of surveillance products, like drones and Astro, the dog-like robot that patrols the home. But this year, the progress of amazon in everyday tracking they were a little more subtle.

The new Halo Rise sleep tracking device, for example, sits on the nightstand and monitors a person’s breathing and micro-movements while they sleep without the need to wear a sleep tracker. The device is said to work even if the person is turned the other way, or covered by pillows and blankets.

On the new Echo Show 15 smart display, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa can now recite a morning routine for each person in the home, provide calendar updates, and highlight traffic reports for the commute to the office. There’s also an option to ask Alexa to turn off the lights up to 24 hours in the future if you’re not going to be home.

Amazon continues to expand the features of Astro. Now you can detect the faces of pets at home and transmit images to owners when they are away from home. The robot can also make sure windows and doors are locked and can perform more in-depth monitoring when the owner is away as part of a virtual surveillance subscription.

This Amazon robotaxi has no pedals or steering wheel 1:01

Amazon is far from the only technology company offering products that monitor users or collect data with the promise of improving comfort, productivity and security. But Amazon, perhaps more than any of its peers, has created a vast array of products and services that arguably track more of our daily lives in and around our homes.

In the months leading up to the product event, Amazon made two big announcements that could further expand its reach into our lives. Last month, Amazon agreed to acquire iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba automatic vacuum cleaners, some of which create maps of the interior of our homes. Also ad its plans to expand its reach in the healthcare market with the purchase of One Medical, a membership-based primary care service.

In the process, Amazon is possibly testing customers’ comfort levels with how much a single company should know about our lives, and perhaps also changing our tolerance.

Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, said the scope and breadth of the company’s consumer offerings may be a concern for some, but many may simply accept compensation for the conveniences.

“Overall, negative consumer attitudes toward data collection in the smart home and elsewhere have been largely tempered by the services received in return,” he said. “Although not explicit, there is a trade-off between lower-priced or free services and the sharing and data collection that supports their availability.”

Stephen Beck, founder and managing partner of consultancy cg42, said customer sentiment “probably won’t change after the Amazon event because items like a TV, smart speaker or sleep tracker feel familiar and don’t pose obvious threats.” and new to privacy.

Amazon has a history of being caught collecting user data without consumers knowing. In 2019, arose reports that Amazon was recording snippets of Alexa user conversations that were sometimes reviewed by humans. Following the backlash, Amazon changed its settings so people could opt out.

In the case of its latest products, the company it states on their website that Astro is designed to detect only the word chosen to wake up, and that no audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects that word. It also highlights that the data from the sensors that Astro uses to navigate the home is processed on the device itself and not sent to the cloud, and that the robot only transmits video or images to the cloud when using a feature such as Live View. in the Astro app.

The Halo Rise sleep tracking device, meanwhile, encrypts the collected data and stores it in the cloud, according to the company. Users can download or delete them later.

But Amazon’s continued rollout of products that can monitor customers to varying degrees comes at a time when many Americans have more reason to be mindful of data collection, given the changing legal landscape around abortion. Digital rights experts have warned that people’s search histories, location data, messages and other digital information could be used by law enforcement agencies investigating or prosecuting abortion-related cases.

“The danger of this tracking has never been clearer,” said Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and a fellow at New York University School of Law. “Very few customers think about how the information they give to companies can be misused by governments, hackers and more.”

While some of the newly announced features, like Astro’s increased door and window monitoring, may be intended to help people feel more secure in their homes, Cahn worries that these seemingly small updates will also push people even more to the Amazon ecosystem.

“Fortunately,” Cahn said, “even if you can teach an old robotic dog new tricks, you can’t change one fact: It’s still creepy.”



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