• Francois S. Marmion

Ring home drone, Sidewalk, Halo: should we worry about the latest Amazon products?

The Ring Always Home Cam is an indoor drone that patrol your house with its camera, looking for unusual noises or for intrusions. As Dale Smith puts it in his article on CNET (https://www.cnet.com/how-to/is-amazons-new-flying-drone-camera-private-what-we-know-about-ring-always-home-cam/ ), "does that sound wonderful, creepy or something in between?" This security flying camera may reassure some but might seem appalling to data privacy advocates. It is suppose to fly wen it "feels" that nobody is home and has a flying autonomy of 5 minutes before getting back to its deck.

(Ring / Amazon)

Halo is Amazon's fitness service. Beyond the traditional features of a fitness app, Halo allows you - using a band, the app and your phone - to create a 3D scan of your body to measure your body fat. And then you can simulate how you would look with less fat. Again, creepy or so useful ?

The microphone on the band is also able, if you opt in, to detect the tone of your voice and to monitor your emotional state during the day. To know more about it: https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/27/21402493/amazon-halo-band-health-fitness-body-scan-tone-emotion-activity-sleep

And finally there is Sidewalk. Sidewalk is the idea of using a small part of your home's WiFi bandwidth to extend your home network outside your place and communicate - using Bluetooth Low Energy - with some devices up to half a mile away from your place. What for? For instance to connect with outdoor smart lights, garage doors, or all objects or animals - such as your dog - equipped with Tile finders. And if you share this bandwidth with your neighbours, that creates a network of networks that can be used outside your home and may cover entire neighbourhoods.

Amazon always outline the steps they are taking to make all these new features safe or purely optional. However, it is not enough to dissipate all privacy and ethical concerns that the public may have. Dieter Bohn, in an article in The Verge, describes so well these issues about the "unknown unknow": "It’s not the known problems that worry me. It’s the unknown unknowns. If there is any lesson we should take from the last decade, it’s that new technologies have both vast unforeseen consequences and surprising, weird loopholes.

The current form of the drone, the mesh network, and the body scanner may all be private enough to be safe to use, but even then, they still seem creepy. They come right out of a future that we suddenly aren’t so eager to rush toward anymore after the last half-decade of technological convulsions have wracked the country.

The worry isn’t necessarily that this year’s products are the problem, although it’s fair and maybe even reasonable to have that worry. It’s that this year’s products push the envelope of acceptability again, opening up a space for future products and services that will harm our privacy — or even our society.

Amazon has answers for my biggest privacy concerns, and some of them are even pretty good. But it’s the problems I haven’t thought to worry about that worry me, and I’m not sure anybody can really have an answer for those".

Dieter Bohn's entire article here: https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/25/21455197/amazon-ring-drone-home-security-surveillance-sidewalk-halo-privacy