Sunday, January 21, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
Just when you thought connected devices couldn’t get any more intrusive, Amazon steps in and takes things up a notch with its Echo Spot, which is already available in the U.S. and soon to launch in the U.K. With its “smart alarm” feature being heavily marketed, the internet retail giant is hoping you’ll place it next to your bed – most likely facing it directly as this is the most obvious placement for alarm clocks.
Of course, this is much more than an alarm clock. It is equipped with a microphone and camera, and it actually hears people talking all the way across the room, even when music is playing. In other words, it’s always listening to you. What it’s doing with all that highly personal information, however, is anyone’s guess.
In fact, Amazon wants you to place one in every room of your house, a move they are encouraging by making the devices work together. For example, its multi-room music feature allows people to play music throughout their home by placing Echo Spots in each room – all while Amazon watches and listens to their every move.
Each Echo Spot is essentially a little spy device, constantly collecting information about you. Amazon might argue that it’s just trying to offer you a more personalized experience, but where does it stop? Even if their intentions were entirely wholesome, what happens when hackers and others with ill intentions get a hold of your most sensitive conversations or video footage of your private moments?
Amazon says that they take customer privacy seriously, and that measures have been taken to make it secure. The microphone, they say, is just listening out for you to utter the keyword to activate it, but there have been cases of these devices activating unintentionally in the past.
Amazon points out that there is a mic/camera off hardware button. However, to turn off the camera, you also have to turn off the microphone, which means you can do very little with the device and really defeats its purpose. It seems like this feature was added just so they can say they give people privacy options; it’s far from practical if people want to actually use the device as intended.
They also say that communications are encrypted and that third-party app installation has been disallowed on the device. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and it won’t be long before clever hackers are able to turn on the Echo Spot’s camera and see what’s going on inside your bedroom. Hackers have already found a way to make the regular Echo device into a live microphone. If you willingly bring this device into your home, you have to understand that this could very well happen to you and accept the consequences.
Despite how outrageous all of this sounds, the product could do well for Amazon. Many people are becoming frighteningly accepting of the presence of so much monitoring in their lives, slowly but steadily giving up every remaining bit of privacy they have. It’s a price that some people will be willing to pay for the convenience the device offers. With features like video calling, displaying song lyrics, showing news clips, keeping you informed about the weather, and waking you up in the morning, some people won’t think twice about what they have to give up. For the rest of us, however, there remain plenty of ways to find out the temperature and get up in time for work without giving Amazon such an intimate view of our lives.
See PrivacyWatch.news for more coverage of privacy vs. technology.