Home / Technology / The Ring Drone is just the latest Amazon puzzle box

The Ring Drone is just the latest Amazon puzzle box



“I would be more worried about your phone’s camera than about a drone,” said Dave Limp, SVP of Amazon Devices, in an interview a few hours after yesterday’s big Echo event. The drone in question is the Ring Always Home Cam, an autonomous indoor drone that can fly around independently using a map of your home to detect strange noises or to patrol when you are not home.

The drone was just one of well over a dozen product announcements Amazon made yesterday – including a full game streaming service to compete directly with Microsoft and Google. But everyone̵

7;s visceral reaction to the idea of ​​an Amazon-powered drone flapping its camera over your house will be remembered.

Box CEO Aaron Levie summed it up pretty well, tweeting, “If 2020 wasn’t dystopian enough for you, Amazon just announced an indoor flying drone camera.” The second most popular answer is that this thing will be completely destroyed by an overzealous cat or dog.

It was my first reaction too – and even now, when I watch a video of the drone floating out of its dock to roam an empty house, I still feel unsettled. But I am also unsure about the idea of ​​even connecting a surveillance camera to a cloud in my house. In fact, I would argue that this is worse. At least with this drone, you are very consciously when it is recording because it makes loud drone noises. Amazon weirdly calls this “privacy you can hear”.

Hilarious, but also accurate. With a compromised indoor security camera, you would never know that someone was looking. And it happened – to people where strangers took over their cameras because they reused their password. Or worse, because a Ring employee watched a video they shouldn’t have seen.

But the drone has sneaked people out in a way that the existing surveillance cameras haven’t, and I think that’s because it moves without being directly controlled. That adds a degree of freedom of choice and intentionality. A stationary camera sees where we point it. A drone could see everything in our house. Instead of rising from a plastic docking station, it might as well rise straight out of the eerie valley.

Amazon is building a track record of products that get people to take a double mindset when thinking about how that could affect their privacy. The drone, the other ring cameras and features, the sidewalk mesh network, and the Halo app that asks you to be scanned in your underpants: they’re almost shameless. It’s like Amazon dared to make the most disturbing consumer products it could.

There’s also an odd tension between products that feel really scary and the fact that Amazon is doing a lot of the right things when it comes to privacy. It added two-factor authentication to ring cameras and will soon offer the option of end-to-end encryption for videos so that only you can access them. It offers more ways to erase your data by speaking to Alexa, and it has a privacy control dashboard which is pretty good.

However, I am not an Amazon apologist. While I don’t think the drone is nearly as problematic as the rest of the internet, I still have a lot of concerns about other products from Amazon. Ring has crossed (and sometimes crossed) the line to be too comfortable with law enforcement, and I worry about the impact on neighborhood cultures in general.

Then there is sidewalk. It’s Amazon’s new mesh network that allows devices and third-party devices to see and communicate with each other at medium distances – less than half a mile, for example. As with trackers like Tile (which will soon work with Sidewalk) devices can securely communicate their location over the mesh network, and Sidewalk can also be used for simple commands to IoT devices such as: B. to check that your mailbox has been opened.

Sidewalk isn’t live yet, but it was mentioned as a key spec in many of the products announced by Amazon yesterday. That said, if people buy these products, the Amazon Sidewalk network will soon start covering cities. Neither are very many of them needed, as Amazon discovered last year.

For example, a week ago Amazon employees and their friends and family got together to run a test on 700 ring lighting products that support 900 MHz connections. Employees installed these devices as they would with typical customers at home. In a matter of days, these individual network points together were supporting a secure 900 MHz, low-bandwidth network for things like lights and sensors that covered much of the Los Angeles Basin, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States by land area.

I have written in the past about my concerns about Sidewalk. As with the drone, I instinctively come back to the idea of ​​an unregulated wireless mesh network that can locate devices that are being built because people want an echo or bell.

But again, as with the drone, Amazon has privacy-focused answers to any of the most obvious problems I could think of. It has spent the past year stress testing its security to protect it against hackers who might want to use it to reveal your location. There are several levels of encryption and bandwidth usage restrictions to avoid misbehavior. It opened an API for developers and brought Tile on board as a third party. Amazon says that any Sidewalk gateway (like an Echo) will allow a customer to turn Sidewalk off if they don’t want to participate.

(As an aside, Apple may have similar ambitions for the UWB chips it has incorporated into its newer products. These AirTags have not yet been announced, and it seems to me that the UWB chips are not just for AirDrop and unlock luxury cars .)

I probably trust (and yes, probably naively) that Amazon has carefully thought out much of this in good faith. I even believe Limp when he tells me that it does a lot to keep it safe from hackers, that Amazon doesn’t intend to collect more data than it needs, and that it never shares location data with anyone. He can’t help but point out that our phones’ location data has been bought and sold multiple times by sketchy companies.

Sidewalk is responsibly maintained and enables all kinds of useful use cases. Ring will have a tiny automatic accident detection gadget that you can buy for $ 60 that only communicates over the sidewalk. No more subscriptions have to be billed from other companies and providers. The fact that Amazon is confident enough to release this type of product without worrying about an LTE connection tells me it expects it won’t need one for it to work. Sidewalk will be everywhere.

Halo scans your body with four photos

Video: Amazon

Here’s another one: Halo, Amazon’s fitness service that allows you to take a 3D scan of your body that can be used to measure your body fat. Again: very scary. Again, Amazon has answers to most immediate questions when it comes to privacy and security.

It’s not the known issues that worry me. It’s the unknown unknowns. If there is any lesson to be learned from the last decade, new technologies have enormous unforeseen consequences as well as surprising, strange gaps.

The current form of the drone, mesh network, and body scanner may all be private enough to be used safely, but even then they still appear to be creepy. They come straight from a future we are suddenly not so keen on after the last half decade of technological convulsions rocked the country.

The concern is not necessarily that this year’s products are the problem, although it is fair and perhaps even reasonable to have that concern. It is the case that this year’s products again exceed the limits of acceptance and open a space for future products and services that will harm our privacy – or even our society.

Amazon has answers to my biggest privacy concerns, and some of them are pretty good. But it’s the issues I didn’t think I was worried about, and I’m not sure anyone really can have an answer to that.


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