Amazon’s Astro robot is a “sweet” nightmare about privacy

Picture for an article titled Amazon’s ‘Cute’ Little Nightmare

Image: Amazon / Gizmodo


It was that word again, smeared across my feeds on Tuesday as Amazon released it bevy data collection,, always watching device to a confused and stubborn public. “Amazon’s robot has finally arrived and I feel the need to admit it’s cute,” tweeted Bloomberg technical editor Nick Turner, along with a link to their story about the “Alexa on Wheels” robot, called Astro.

“Why?” I thought. “Why on earth do you feel compelled to admit it’s sweet? Why aren’t you terrified, like me? I was annoyed by the discrepancy between what I felt and this “sweet” feeling. Turner wasn’t the only one who got a vague feeling because of this heartless construction: The consensus of writers to whom Amazon granted early access to his robot seems such that we need to understand take it seriously and seriously as something we could wish for our lives, wandering our hallways, scanning the faces of our children, crossing the tails of our dogs.

Of course, there were brief mentions of privacy in this embargo, and a growing chorus on Twitter echoed my visceral reaction against the Amazon robot. But from those early stories, the concern about how the device would negatively affect our lives was a whisper compared to “Hell no, this is bad” screaming in my head and gut. “Haven’t we learned anything?”

I’m not just afraid that Amazon has invented a new way to invade our privacy and get richer in the process, although I’m afraid and insulted as well. That’s so much of a concern invasive technology makes me a freak. That far more people fall on the opposite side of the eternal conflict between security and privacy than I do. That this little robot with a deer eye is the embodiment and new catalyst of all that divides us. That people – most people – want that.

Just hours after the Amazon event, my privacy concerns seemingly justified: Motherboard published leaked documents that reveal the obvious: that the Astro, which will cost $ 1,500 after a starting price of $ 1,000 for beginners selected by Amazon, “above all … a surveillance device that monitors you and everyone who enters your home. ” That’s what Amazon thinks when it shows up advertises Astro as a “home tracking robot, with Alexa”, which gives you “peace”, regardless of whether you remotely take care of a loved one tied to the home or just want to make sure you turn off the stove. At least that promises – maybe one day. As a programmer who had a chance to play with the previous edition of the robot told Motherboard, “Astro is horrible and will almost certainly throw himself down the stairs if given the chance.”

Amazon, of course, promises that the Astro is “designed to protect your privacy” because it allows you to simply “mute microphones, cameras and gestures at the touch of a button and use the Astro app to set off limits. Astro knows where not to go.” ”This warranty disregards the history of Alexa-enabled devices encroaches on our privacy, from the company’s Ring cameras (which are built into the Astro) creating private surveillance network spying on our neighbors and sending information to the police. The possibility of hacking these devices cannot be resolved. And it ignores the obvious reality that Amazon is actively building a ubiquitous surveillance system that it controls within our most private spaces – like Verge reports, establishing its dominance over the future of “ambient computing” is Amazon’s explicit goal. And it does so by flooding the zone with “cute” devices connected to the internet.

What Amazon’s Astro pitch addresses directly (albeit implicitly) is that many people simply won’t have to worry about any worries that are on my mind and those of my skeptics. Amazon consistently ranks in the top three at Fortune’s annualthe companies that are valued the most“Lists. Last year, a Verge poll found that 91% of respondents had a positive opinion of Amazon – more than any other Big Tech company – and 73% said they would entrust their data to the corporation, right behind Microsoft.

All this is reflected in the actual purchases: from January 2020 – almost two years ago – Amazon he said it has sold “hundreds of millions” of devices enabled by Alexa, which is at least twice as much as a year earlier. The debate over privacy around smart speakers, which used to be a hot topic, has faded into virtual non-existence, except for moments like this week when a new device affects our memory. If there is even a debate, it is clear that my side is losing.

The fact is that my great preference for privacy is a privilege. I am physically able to monitor every room in my house without help, and none of my loved ones currently need remote monitoring. I live in an area with a low crime rate. I own expensive computers and phones that can do most of what a smart speaker (or a smart microwave or a stupid robot) can do. As far as I know, no one is actively persecuting me or trying to harm me. I do not know need any of these devices to improve my life because my life is as it is now perfectly fine without them,

Still, I’m a hypocrite too: I own a security camera (Nest owned by Google) that I use to track my pets when we’re away from home. Otherwise it stays offline and offline at all other times, but I still use it. More importantly, I understand why people want cameras to monitor inside and outside their homes at all times: anxiety and control. He may leave town and not know if your house is safe and standing. The ability to run a front door or living room source whenever you want reduces anxiety about something happening that you can’t control.

I fear, however, that this need to be constantly on the lookout increases our sense of being need always watch – that disaster is just around the corner, even if it isn’t. There is a survey regularly found that Americans believe crime is more prevalent than it actually is. And while you have a security camera can reduce the possibility of someone breaking into your house, the FBI’s Unique Crime Reporting Program found that property crime rates are the lowest since at least 1985, the earliest date for which the agency provides public data.

Picture for an article titled Amazon’s ‘Cute’ Little Nightmare

I am also afraid that self-imposed surveillance can serve to legitimize our fear of other people. When your doorbell constantly monitors your front porch, everyone who passes by becomes a suspect, especially if it’s someone is a person of color. It’s not Amazon or Google’s fault, but it’s a dynamic that seems to be amplified or legitimate by the products these companies offer. In an era when we are more and more we live in our own little bubbles, it’s hard for me not to think that constant attention to each other only serves to overpower our worst instincts and further weaken our sense of community.

Aside from the privacy concerns I have with any Internet-connected device — including my phones and computers, and the Nest camera — the fact is that Amazon, with the release of the Astra, is once again forcing us to decide what kind of society we want to live in. homes whenever we want from anywhere, just so we can breathe easier, or does that create toxic dynamics that we should avoid? I know how to answer that question, at least in principle, and I have a pretty good idea of ​​how most people would answer it – and the two would be radically different. What frustrates me the most is that Amazon is forcing us to make a choice once again to make money. I’d like Amazon to give us space to grapple with the technological choices we already have, rather than shoveling new decisions on plates before we even know what we’re eating. In the end, I wish they would just leave us alone. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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