For Amazon, these products offer the promise of taking a slice of the lucrative home security market and pushing customers deeper into its ecosystem of household products. Other tech companies have entered this market over the years, including Google with its Nest Aware video recording system and Nest smart doorbell. Companies such as Logitech, Arlo, and Netamo offer similar products.
But Amazon’s decision to expand its offerings in this product category comes at a time of scrutiny of the power and data privacy practices of the biggest players in the tech industry. And Amazon’s latest security products, with their potential for increased surveillance in and around our homes, could test just how much more companies can improve consumer comfort levels with such intrusive technology.
“Tech companies promised a future like Star Trek, but Amazon is trying to sell us RoboCops,” said Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and member of the University of New York law school. York. “And while these products promise security, they really are a threat. These sensors would give us a disturbing new reality where there is no escaping the tech giant’s roaming drones in our own homes.”
Privacy advocates also criticized a 2019 move by Ring to give law enforcement easier access to videos recorded on its doorbells for active investigations. (Since June, police and fire departments can only request information or video related to an ongoing investigation through public messages called requests for assistance.)
Following the publication of this article, Amazon told CNN Business that privacy is fundamental to the design of its products. “We only collect the information necessary to provide and improve our customers’ experience. When we collect data, we secure it and use it responsibly to improve the experience, while providing customers with transparency and control on their information,” a spokesperson said.
How Amazon is trying to break into customers’ homes
Amazon launched its presence in our homes in 2014 with the Echo speaker, which became a success for the company. Amazon has since integrated its virtual assistant Alexa into every type of device imaginable, effectively acclimating its users to the possibility of the company listening to them all the time in exchange for greater utility. Now its latest products basically offer steroids.
“Clearly we’re heading into different territory now with the arrival of more experimental products like the Always Home mini-drone camera and the Astro robot, but I think Amazon is using their products to learn more about the willingness of consumers to have such devices in their homes,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at market research firm CCS Insight. Wood also said some consumers are willing to compromise on privacy. for the sense of comfort and security that products from companies like Amazon provide.
Amazon seems to be taking steps to make this trade-off less severe.
A spokesperson for Ring told CNN Business that any agent monitoring a stream from its Virtual Security Guard service cannot access saved recordings or upload or store video, and customers will know which events were viewed by an agent. Customers can also set up privacy zones that are off-limits to agents, but that can be a little comfort for visitors and random passers-by who are always on camera.
Then there is the appearance. Amazon has disguised the surveillance technology as an adorable companion watchdog, making it much more appealing to customers, according to Jonathan Collins, director of market research firm ABI Research. “Cuteness is subjective, but certainly the more emotionally invested someone is with a device — and this can be driven by pleasant visual or audio exchanges — the more likely it is to be used,” he said.
Astro, however, is building on the company’s strength in robots, artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensor technology, voice interactions and edge computing, Wood said. Coupled with Amazon’s reach and scale, this launch is much more remarkable, he added.
“With an introductory price of $1,000 and a small number of units available to a limited audience, I believe the Astro robot will sell out within minutes when it becomes available in the US market,” Wood said. (It will eventually cost $1,500 after an invite-only purchase period.)