Amazon’s newest version of its Echo smart home device boasts a built-in video camera that can capture your outfits and provide fashion recommendations.
That’s a big step towards a lifestyle of the future.
But it also creates some important privacy issues that are worth keeping in mind if you’re considering buying the $199 Amazon Echo Look.
As with any connected device, and particularly an internet connected camera, there are valid concerns about privacy: Is the device always listening? Who can see the photos and videos it takes?
The most important thing to know is that the Echo Look does have an on/off switch. If you don’t want the device watching or listening to you, you can turn the camera and microphone off by pressing a button on the side of the device.
That’s nice. But hackers have a long history of using malicious tools to hijack PC webcams, allowing them to surreptitiously spy on people. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself covers his laptop’s camera with tape, as does FBI Director James Comey.
And when it comes to internet-connected devices like webcams, it can be tricky to secure them properly, if at all.
The Echo is different, Amazon says, because it uses the retailer’s own time-tested security systems to protect your privacy. That means it’s backed by the same security Amazon uses to protect its own services, which ideally protects it against the vast majority of hackers.
Of course, nothing is bulletproof.
Turn on the blue light
When the Echo Look is turned on, Amazon says it can only detect a special “wake” word, which means it’s not always listening to you. When the devices hears the wake word, a light ring on the Echo Look will turn blue so you know it’s saving audio to the AWS cloud, an Amazon spokeswoman told Business Insider.
Which brings us to the photos, videos, and audio the Echo Look is capturing when it’s on — and this is a bit more complicated than an on/off switch.
The Echo Look has an accompanying app will save all your outfit photos locally rather than clogging up your camera roll. But be advised that the photos are also stored in the AWS cloud until you manually delete them, an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. This means that every time you say, “Alexa, take a photo,” that image is immediately saved to Amazon’s cloud until you go in and delete it yourself.
It’s worth noting that storing images in the cloud is something that services like Google Photos, Dropbox, and iCloud already do. By uploading your images to Google Photos, for example, you’re allowing Google to use machine learning to create customized albums and GIFs of your content.
Just remember that the photos and video that get captured while you’re in your bedroom could contain more private information, whether in the foreground or background, than the photos that you expressly capture with your phone while you’re out and about.
Amazon did not comment as to whether it has any future plans to use the photos and videos you capture with the Echo Look on its other platforms, like tailoring your shopping suggestions on Amazon.com. But since Amazon is making a commitment to growing its fashion business, it’s not hard to speculate how the Echo Look could be used to expand its current offerings.