Is The Amazon Echo Look A Privacy Disaster Waiting To Happen?

With its features, the Amazon Echo Look might very well be the next big thing that the e-commerce giant has released. Considering the technology that is being utilized for the device, however, the Look might also be one of the most risk-prone devices when it comes to online privacy. After all, a device that can both hear and see what its users are doing on an almost constant basis is something that has managed to get many netizens concerned.

The Amazon Echo Look is built on the premise of aiding its users to select and match their everyday outfits. The small device, which has all the functionalities of the original Echo, plus a camera, could offer recommendations on what users could wear. The device also comes with a feature called Style Check, which allows Alexa to evaluate what its user wears, based on traditional machine learning and advice from Amazon’s own “fashion specialists.” Images that are taken by the Echo Look are stored immediately in the cloud, until such time that a user decides to delete them.

While the idea behind the device appears to be targeted towards a very specific niche of users, the fashion industry is no joke. The fashion industry is worth $2.4 trillion globally, and Amazon already stands as the leader in online fashion sales. Thus, the Look has the potential to be just as successful as the e-commerce giant’s other home-grown products, such as the original Echo and the now ubiquitous Kindle.

Inasmuch as the Amazon Echo Look has all the potential to be a huge success, however, the premise of the device alone has managed to get internet privacy advocates extremely apprehensive. Brian Heater of TechCrunch stated that most reservations about the Look come from the fact that the device is an inherent privacy risk. After all, the Echo’s always-listening microphone might be one thing, but the Echo Look’s camera is on a whole new risk level entirely.

Of course, Amazon has assured users and potential buyers of the Echo Look that the device would not be a privacy risk at all. According to the e-commerce giant, the Look would only activate its camera once it detects a trigger word. Unless the trigger word is spoken, the sensors on the device remain dormant. An Amazon spokesperson has clarified the company’s privacy stance on the Look in a statement to IT website TechCrunch.

“Echo Look uses the same on-device keyword spotting as Echo, to detect the wake word and only the wake word. When the wake word is detected, the light ring turns blue to indicate that Alexa is streaming audio to the AWS cloud.”

Apart from this, the Echo Look does have a very prominent button that turns off the device’s camera capabilities completely. Thus, according to Amazon, the Echo Look is completely safe to use. The company, however, did state that images that are captured by the Look are stored in the cloud, where “designated Amazon personnel may view photos and video to provide and improve our services.” The statement all but proves that the Echo Look, at the end of the day, will be automatically uploading user data to Amazon.

Paul Armstrong of Forbes has stated that this is where things would most likely get tricky. According to Armstrong, the Look’s advantages are entirely outweighed by the product’s inherent risks, as the machine learning on the device would most likely be able to know some things about its users through the photos it takes. For example, photos uploaded to the cloud could be utilized by the Echo Look to infer a number of things about its users, such as their sexual orientation and even their weight over a period of time.

This is not all, however, as the data on Amazon’s cloud is always at risk of being the target of hackers and data thieves on the internet. Armstrong also stated that devices such as the Echo Look play a huge part in providing data that could be utilized against its users. These include hacked DVRs, private photo leaks, and even extreme examples such as revenge pornography. Disturbingly, instances of these have all happened over the past six months.

Overall, the Amazon Echo Look is yet another smart device from Amazon that might find an actual niche market among the millions of online shoppers worldwide. Inasmuch as its potential is vast, however, its risks are also very notable. The Amazon Echo Look is currently available as an invite-only device, and retails for $200.

[Featured Image by Amazon]