Amazon’s latest product announcements serve as a reminder that the company is still watching


CNN Business

A TV that knows when you enter and leave the room. A gadget that monitors your breathing rate while you sleep. An enhanced voice assistant tool that highlights everything it knows about your daily life.

At an invite-only press event last week, Amazon unveiled a long list of product updates ahead of the holiday shopping season that appear designed to further insert its gadgets and services into every corner of our homes. with the apparent aim of making everything a little easier. . But the event also served as a reminder of just how much Amazon’s many products look to us.

At past events, Amazon (AMZN) has raised eyebrows with egregious examples of surveillance products, including drones and Astro, the dog-like robot that patrols the home. But this year, Amazon’s (AMZN) advances in daily tracking have been a bit more subtle.

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

On the new Echo Show 15 smart display, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa can now suggest a morning routine for everyone at home, provide calendar updates and highlight traffic reports for the trip to the office. There’s also an option to ask Alexa to turn off the lights for up to 24 hours in the future if they won’t be home.

Amazon also continues to expand Astro’s functionality. It can now detect the faces of pets around the house and broadcast images to owners when they are not at home. The robot can also make sure windows and doors are closed and it can perform more in-depth monitoring when the owner is away as part of a virtual monitoring subscription.

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

In the months leading up to the product event, Amazon made two big announcements that could extend its reach into our lives even further. Amazon agreed last month to acquire iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba automated vacuum cleaners, some of which create maps of the interiors of our homes. It also announced plans to expand its reach into the healthcare market by purchasing One Medical, a membership-based primary care service.

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

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

“Overall, negative consumer attitudes towards data collection in the smart home and other areas have been greatly improved by the services received in return,” he said. “Although not explicit, there is a trade-off between cheaper or free services and data sharing and collection that supports their availability.”

Stephen Beck, founder and managing partner of consultancy cg42, said customer opinion “is likely to remain unchanged after Amazon’s event, as things like a TV, smart speaker or tracker sleep sound familiar and pose no obvious new threats to privacy.”

Amazon has a history of being caught collecting user data without consumers knowing. In 2019, reports surfaced 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 of this.

For its latest products, the company says on its website how Astro is designed to only detect the chosen wake word, and no sound is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects that word. He also emphasizes that the sensor data Astro uses to navigate around the house is processed on the device itself and not sent to the cloud, and the robot only streams video or images to the cloud only when a feature such as Live View in the Astro app is in use. .

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

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 careful about data collection given the changing legal landscape around the industry. ‘abortion. Digital rights experts have warned that people’s search histories, location data, messages and other digital information could be used by law enforcement 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 fellow at NYU School of Law. “Far too few customers think about how the information they provide to companies can be misused by governments, hackers, etc.”

While some of the recently announced features, such as Astro’s increased door and window monitoring, may be aimed at helping people feel safer in their homes, Cahn worries that these seemingly minor updates could also push people even deeper into Amazon’s ecosystem.

“Fortunately,” Cahn said, “even though you can teach an old robot dog new tricks, you can’t change one fact: it’s still scary.”


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