Amazon’s home drone rekindles fears over home surveillance

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A miniature drone that buzzes around the house and allows users to monitor their homes: this device soon to be marketed by Amazon does not fail to raise some eyebrows.

The Ring Always Home Cam, which will be sold in 2021, is already raising questions about the risks of intrusive surveillance and possible breaches of confidentiality.

Amazon claims that the micro-drone was “made with privacy in mind” and that it operates according to customers’ instructions.

Recharging from a station, it can be activated remotely and record up to five minutes of video.

Some activists are worried about the use that will be made of the data collected by this device, which is part of the Ring brand, acquired by Amazon in 2018 and specializing in connected home objects, in particular smart doorbells.

For John Verdi, vice president of policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington-based think tank, the drone could thus contribute to a “standardization of surveillance” at home.

“When cameras, microphones and other sensors are deployed in private spaces such as a living room or bedroom, this leads to acceptance of day-to-day surveillance,” predicts Mr. Verdi.

The expert acknowledges, however, that Amazon “has made efforts to protect the confidentiality of this product for both hardware and software measures.”

But for Washington University law professor and private security specialist Ryan Calo, the device “could gradually prove to be more harmful than a normal camera” by allowing a user to monitor other people without their consent.

Although the drone is billed as a household item, it could also be used in the workplace, Calo believes, and “allow the person who controls it to spy on anyone and there will be no somewhere to hide. “

This could, for example, allow a violent individual to spy on his or her partner.

More blunt, the British group Big Brother Watch considers the flying camera to be “probably the most frightening surveillance tool ever produced by Amazon.”

“Our customers are looking for ways to make sure their homes and families are safe. Our new products and features, including the Always Home Cam, help them do just that, ”responded an Amazon spokesperson.

Links with the police?

Amazon has suffered severe criticism in the past for sharing videos recorded by Ring doorbells with law enforcement agencies who have encouraged owners to use these devices.

The group ensures that indoor cameras are not targeted by requests from the police and are not equipped with microphones to record sound.

But for Mr. Calo, despite the group’s guarantees, “it may not be the responsibility of Amazon, but of a court if the police ask for a warrant.”

Some critics also fear that Amazon or its partners may seek to recover data for commercial purposes.

If the use which will be made of this data remains mysterious, Mr. Calo recalls that with Amazon there is “many antecedents” which show that the company “tried to monetize what it knew about its customers from of their search or purchase history. It’s part of their business model. ”

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