Knock, Knock — It’s Amazon!
Did someone invite Amazon over? No, it let itself in. Last October, Amazon unveiled Amazon Key, a product that quite literally lets the company inside your home, in a move that sees Amazon progress steadily into the smart-home business. Amazon Key includes a smart lock and camera, which jointly allow you to remotely monitor your door and lock it using your smartphone. Worrying about forgetting your key and racing home to let the housekeeper in are now things of the past.
The story doesn’t end here, though. Amazon Key also allows for packages to be delivered into your home. It grants access of your front door to the delivery person: they open your door, leave your package safely within your property, and leave. On the user’s end, Amazon notifies you when your door has been opened and allows you to monitor the delivery in real-time using livestream camera footage. For $290 (and the cost of your privacy), the hassle of stolen or missing packages is eliminated.
In addition, Amazon is keeping a tight monopoly on the Amazon Key business. Even though Amazon Key’s smart locks are made by third-party manufacturers, these producers will not have access to the locks once they are installed in homes. Competing delivery companies, like Jet2 and Walmart, also cannot bypass the key and enter. These standards ensure that in-home deliveries—for now, at least—remain an Amazon trademark.
Unsurprisingly, there are a slew of concerns. Although the live-cam feature of Key is intended to discourage such behavior, deliverymen could easily abuse their access to steal items from your home when dropping off a package. A graver danger is the potential for hacking: security researchers managed to hijack Amazon’s camera and key, disabling both devices and entering a customer’s home without triggering a smartphone notification. Finally, there lies the greatest and most abstract problem: the privacy intrusion that arises when you grant a corporation like Amazon access to your front door.
But is Amazon Key truly an intrusion if we already allow Alexa to listen to our conversations, Echo Spot to peer into our living rooms, and Echo Look to judge our fashion choices? These Amazon products are all real, and they’re all widely used. In fact, Amazon has sold more than thirty million Alexa-powered smart speakers since launching in late 2014. Its products range from simple voice-controlled “Alexa” speakers, to more advanced voice-controlled assistants incorporating a screen and camera—like the Spot. Perhaps its most unsettling device is the Amazon Look, which allows you to take pictures of your outfits and send them to an algorithm for critique. Ultimately, Amazon is not alone; tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook have not hesitated to release similar products.
These devices are part of a wider trend among tech companies to take our offline lives online. For instance, things as simple as switching on the lights or deciding on what to wear are now controlled via voice or mobile; time offline is practically obsolete. Judging by Amazon’s newest product—a voice-controlled microwave—this trend is set to continue. How far it will go depends entirely on how far we, as consumers, allow technology to penetrate our day-to-day lives, and until then, Amazon remains the uninvited guest that let themselves in.