On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled a slew of new hardware. The gear is, on the face of it, meant to help you listen to music, render raw meat edible, or hold prescription pieces of glass in front of your eyeballs. Most of the stuff also involves getting the Echo, Amazon’s smart speaker, into every nook and cranny of not only your home, but your body. “When stripped of the day’s high gloss,” Sidney Fussel at the Atlantic observed, much of Amazon’s newly announced goods “are just wearable microphones.”
The existing microphones that Amazon has deployed into the world have already resulted in a small slew of privacy scandals, as Fussel notes, from police departments that request footage from owners of Amazon Rings to humans who review audio clips from Alexa speakers. True, Amazon will now give users the option to automatically delete any stored recordings every few months—but as Shira Ovide points out at Bloomberg, Amazon could have chosen to just stop recording voice commands in the first place.
Privacy from giant companies or law enforcement isn’t the only thing we have to worry about with this gear—it can also let one member of a household spy on or gaslight another. Security cameras, like Ring, obviously collect footage, but even Echos might be picking up more than you bargain for, listening even when you mention the word Alexa in passing—and even if you don’t know the device is there. In that light, here is our official, from-the-gut take on which of the hardware offerings pose the biggest privacy concerns, from least to worst.
Echo Dot with clock: If anything, this version of the smallest member of the Echo line that glows with the time is ever so slightly less of a dystopian privacy nightmare compared with other standard Echos. The glowier the Echo, the easier it is for visitors to spot and therefore be aware that something is potentially listening in on them. If you must get an Echo Dot (hey, they are useful) get this one.
Echo Show 8: The latest addition to a family of Amazon smart speakers with screens and cameras. At least it comes with a small slider that makes it easy to physically block the camera when it’s not in use.
Echo Flex: The tiniest stationary take on the Echo yet. It’s sort of weird that we’re reaching a point where you can go into someone’s home and not even be remotely aware that an Echo is curled up against a wall socket. And we’re not even halfway down the list.
Echo Glow: While the Glow itself doesn’t pose any privacy threats—it’s merely a lamp—it needs to be paired with an Alexa device. It could be seen as a way to get parents to put smart speakers in their kid’s rooms. (Though Echo can technically control lamps in another room, promotional images show the lamp and the speaker side by side.) Surveillance for all ages!
Echo Buds: Now we’re crossing into portable Echo territory. Amazon’s response to Air Pods plays music, reduces outside noise, and allows users to speak to Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. The Buds will usher us further into a world where you can be walking down the street, fully surrounded by smart assistants of all kinds.
Echo Frames: A microphone that stays on your person all day and doesn’t look like anything resembling a microphone, nor follows any established social codes for wearable microphones? How is anyone around you supposed to have any idea that you are wearing a microphone?
Fetch: Finally, a thing without a microphone. This is a pet tracker that attaches to your dog’s collar and can alert you if your pet has escaped the yard. Fetch will also be able to track when your hypothetically lost dog passes a house with Sidewalk, a forthcoming way to extend the network of your smart home devices. Is there any better deed than helping lost pups get found? On the surface, no. But if your lost dog can be tracked, so can your regular dog walks, analyst Jeff Pollard points out in an interview with CNet.
Echo Loop: This smart ring is a microphone masquerading as a giant titanium wedding band. A microphone that could become physically stuck to your body if your hands swell. A microphone that you can wear while totally naked.
Amazon Smart Oven: An oven that could be hacked. To be clear, doing so would require some security oversight on Amazon’s part. But clever hackers with a lot of time have found loopholes in the past in order to eavesdrop using Echos, and the oven would have to be connected to one, so, again, an oven that could be hacked.
Ring Stick Up Camera and Ring Indoor Camera: A version of the security camera for which footage was once collected into a searchable folder viewable by employees of Ring. That, but for inside your home. The indoor-only version is available for purchase now!
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