Amazon’s most recent showcase of new products and services is one of the most disturbing things I’ve watched in a long time.
“It’s another step forward in our vision of Alexa everywhere,” said Senior Vice President of Devices and Services Dave Limp when announcing the integration of Alexa into Disney’s hotels. Amazon then continued to announce product after product that is designed to watch you, listen to you, and follow you around.
There’s the new Echo Show 15, a display designed to be attached to a wall in your home. When showing it off, Vice President of Echo and Alexa Miriam Daniel talked about how the Echo Show 15 can be trained to hear the specific sound of your fridge beeping when the door is left open, and then notify you to close it.
The company then unveiled “child-friendly” products — like the aforementioned “Hey Disney!” smart assistant and interactive webcam Amazon Glow — which are designed to get your kids enmeshed into the Amazon ecosystem as early as possible.
Then, of course, there’s Ring, the company that caught its employees watching users’ home video feeds, had its products hijacked and operated by hackers, and liberally shared users’ data with law enforcement. Which product did the surveillance wing of Amazon not announce today?
Which product did the surveillance wing of Amazon not announce today?
There’s a new Ring Alarm Pro monitoring system, “job site security” equipment for workers to install at a construction site, floodlight cameras, new video doorbells, and the re-reveal of the “Ring Always Home” camera, a drone that flies around your house so every inch of it can be surveilled. Oh, and if you want, you can now let a Ring employee have access to your cameras and microphones via a new virtual security guard system.
To cap it all off, Amazon revealed Astro, a Wall-E-like robot with cup holders. All those cameras and microphones now come on a wheeling droid that you can use to bother your pets, like in the example Limp provided where he wanted to keep his dogs off of his couch while he was at work. For some reason, wall-mounted cameras or the new indoor drone couldn’t have done this: it needed to be a robot on wheels.
Limp went on to wax poetic about Astro’s capabilities, offering examples of how a $1,000 iPad with wheels and cup holders could be used in situations where a regular iPad without wheels and cup holders would have sufficed, like trying to video chat with your parents. They didn’t even build a vacuum into its base, the one example of popular utility for floor-roaming robots.
Of course, the reason that Amazon is building so many autonomous surveillance systems with different transportation capabilities is that it doesn’t want a single corner of the world to be inaccessible to its robotic eyes and ears. Remember, the goal is “Alexa Everywhere” — that means eventually in the spaces that you aren’t even aware of it, or consenting to its presence. As these products develop new methods of mobility, and more companies work with Amazon to integrate technology like Alexa into spaces such as Disney’s resorts, these devices will be able to map brand new areas inch by inch, with the ability to understand and process the data they uncover in greater detail.
Perhaps if Amazon had displayed a more careful approach to surveillance in the past, or we had a federal government that addressed privacy concerns with any sense of urgency, we might be able to enjoy the utility of roaming smart assistants a little more without the fear of digitally-powered entities breathing down our necks. But Amazon has proven time and again that it isn’t concerned by the broader ramifications of the surveillance state, and Big Tech is a behemoth the government continues to say it will attempt to tame but seems more than happy to drag out any kind of regulation in the same lackadaisical approach it brings to — well — everything. How many new surveillance products will Amazon release into the wild before anyone that can do anything about it actually tries to tackle the problem?
“Alexa Everywhere” isn’t just about Amazon.
“Alexa Everywhere” isn’t only about Amazon. It’s about products from Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others that build a wider tapestry of constant observation. There are very few places you can go now where there isn’t an opportunity for a device to watch or hear. Even with companies attempting to implement privacy measures, it requires trust and transparency — the latter of which corporations seldom offer unless legally compelled to, and the former which they continually abuse.
It’s been clear for years that the future of Big Tech lies in these kinds of mass-surveilling products. But the glee with which they are revealed, and the brazen awareness of it that comes from a statement like “Alexa Everywhere,” only makes it all the worse.