Amazon’s watchful eye


Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has a thing for flying things. His fascination with rockets, floating space cities and Prime Air delivery drones is now also pervading in the living room. The youngest member of the Amazon family is a mini drone: the Always Home Cam from Ring. Ring is a company that Amazon bought in 2018. You will find their video doorbells on many Dutch front doors. For $ 249 you will soon buy a flying camera that takes off like a devil from a box and buzzes into danger, floating through your house.

According to the commercial, the burglar – who of course sneaks in in broad daylight and is clearly recognizable by his black cap – runs away, startled. But you can also use the mini drone to check remotely whether the stove is off, the window is closed and whether your housemates are within five feet of each other.

Amazon’s watchful eye is advancing. In the Netherlands, Amazon is a cloud service, online store and video subscription, but in the US Amazon is growing into a surveillance service that pushes the boundaries of the surveillance state.

The dozens of gadgets that Amazon presented last week almost all contain cameras and microphones that are linked to Amazon’s operating system for the smart home, Alexa. A new surveillance service, Alexa Guard Plus, tracks footsteps and glass clinks when you’re not at home and lets a fake dog bark when something moves outside.

Amazon’s smart home doesn’t stop at the front door. What started with a talking speaker grows into a network that keeps an eye on the neighborhood, for example through Ring’s Neigborhood project that links cameras from surrounding homes. The car is now also participating. A new dash cam, listening to Alexa, immediately turns on your car’s camera sensors to monitor the surroundings.

Amazon also added a trick that could help against excessive police violence in the US. When you say to your Ring camera: “Alexa, I’m being pulled overI am stopped, then the camera automatically starts filming to capture evidence. The home front immediately gets a secret signal, to get worried.

Most far-reaching is Sidewalk, Amazon’s plan for a network for internet-connected things. Sidewalk (‘sidewalk’) is built on wireless technologies such as LoRa, wifi and bluetooth. Sidewalk was announced in 2019 and is almost ready in the US. Amazon just published an explanation of the privacy and security. Sidewalk would process data like a post office, without opening packages.

Amazon’s own gadgets are part of the infrastructure after a software update. Sidewalk works with four-year-old devices, an indication that Amazon has been brooding on this plan for years. The question remains: why? You can use Sidewalk to track a runaway pet or to control devices just out of your Wi-Fi range. Scenarios like this suggest that Sidewalk can cause more problems than solve it.

Marc Hijink writes about technology.

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