Amazon’s Astro raises questions about privacy at home

What is happening

Amazon’s home robot collects a massive amount of personal data, reaching deeper into your home than the e-commerce giant’s Ring cameras or Alexa voice assistants.

why is it important

Collecting data raises questions about the security of the information and who has access to it.

And after

The robot is currently sold by invitation. Once Amazon opens sales, more data about people will be collected.

Amazon’s Astro home robot probes our lives more deeply than the e-commerce giant’s existing technology, like its Ring security cameras and Alexa voice assistants. by Astro range of featuresincluding cameras, sensors, and on-board AI, raise privacy concerns, particularly because the robot is designed to make us love and trust him.

Unlike fixed home security cameras, Astro can move from room to room. It gets closer to the people, furniture, and appliances in your home. While your dog knows the sound of your footsteps as you head for the door, Astro uses facial recognition scans to identify household members. the adorably disarming robot will also map your home, study how you move around it, and learn where to stay until asked. All the while, Astro uses an Alexa voice assistant that streams your queries to the cloud.

To function properly, Astro needs a huge amount of personal data. Much of it stays on the device and some of it, video and voice recordings, is sent back to Amazon’s cloud. Data stored in the cloud must be protected both from theft by hackers and from intrusive use by Amazon. Because Astro’s features give its owners the ability to monitor what’s going on in their home at all times, the little robot could be particularly dangerous for people in abusive relationships.

“It’s a very dystopian level of surveillance capitalism, how Amazon seeks access to every corner of our homes,” said Will Owen, communications manager at the Surveillance Technology Surveillance Program, “in this case , literally”.

Amazon says it has taken steps to mitigate Astro’s potential creep factor, as part of a larger effort to build trust in the technology. The robot’s chips process facial recognition and home mapping data on the device so the information isn’t uploaded to Amazon’s cloud. Data on Astro and the cloud is encrypted. Users can only view the video and control the robot remotely after pairing their phone to the device with a QR code or PIN code. And Astro notifies when a live view session is about to begin with a message on its screen, and people at home can press a button or say “Astro stop” to stop the video from playing. People in the home can put Astro into Do Not Disturb mode to stop further attempts to broadcast video.

“At Amazon, customer trust is at the center of everything we do and is essential to inventing devices and services that help improve the lives of our customers,” the company said.

Astro features and how they use your data

Astro collects and processes sensitive data in four main ways: sensors, facial recognition technology, video cameras and Alexa.

  • Home Mapping and Motion Tracking Sensors: Astro creates a map of your house with its sensors, allowing you to label each room, as well as blocking the robot from entering some of them. Astro monitors how you and other family members move to avoid tripping. Amazon says the data these sensors collect stays on Astro, except for a rough map of your home that lives in the cloud so you can view it on your phone through a companion app. Amazon also says it does not use data from Astro owners to improve the robot’s computer vision.
  • Visual identification technology: Astro can identify people in your home through facial recognition if you opt in to the service and you and the people you live with submit your biometric information. The data is processed on the device, Amazon says. Astro will delete the scans if it does not encounter a person’s face after 18 months. Astro owners are not required to use the Visual ID feature.
  • Video recording cameras: Astro offers a variety of video and audio streaming features that send and store recordings to the cloud. This includes video played while users direct Astro around the house remotely, as well as recordings of autonomous home patrols that Astro can perform for Ring Protect Pro subscribers. People at home with Astro can prevent video checks from happening, either by setting Astro to Do Not Disturb mode or by turning off the camera or microphone. Video and audio streamed from Astro are encrypted on Amazon’s servers.
  • Alexa: Astro does not speak, but the Alexa voice assistant installed with the robot does. Your conversations with Alexa are uploaded to Amazon’s cloud, as are communications sent to you from loved ones and caregivers via Alexa.

Amazon may change how it uses your data

Privacy advocates acknowledge Amazon’s efforts to secure data used by Astro. But ultimately, they say we don’t know what will happen to that because Amazon might change its terms of service in a privacy-threatening way. This would force people to consider throwing away a robot that will cost $1,450 when it becomes widely available. (Currently, Astro is sold by invitation only, for $1,000.)

Terms of service can also be vague, and Amazon has used customer data in undesirable ways in the past. Until 2019, people didn’t know that human critics were listening to Alexa audio on a regular basis. The terms of service stated that requests to Alexa were used to train its voice recognition software, but the terms did not explicitly state that humans could review those requests. Amazon responded to criticism by allowing users to withdraw from the review process.

Amazon has a financial incentive to access the data it currently leaves alone, says Matthew Guariglia, policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“All of this data,” he said, “is a real gold mine for people who want to sell you things.”

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