Amazon Wants to Put a Camera and Microphone in Your Bedroom

Echo Look will use machine learning to decide if you look fat in that shirt.

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Apr 26 2017, 3:34pm

Amazon is giving Alexa eyes. And it's going to let her judge your outfits. 

The newly announced Echo Look is a virtual assistant with a microphone and a camera that's designed to go somewhere in your bedroom, bathroom, or wherever the hell you get dressed.

 Amazon is pitching it as an easy way to snap pictures of your outfits to send to your friends when you're not sure if your outfit is cute, but it's also got a built-in app called StyleCheck that is worth some further dissection. 

  • You cool with an algorithm, machine learning, and "fashion specialists" deciding whether you look attractive today? What sorts of built-in biases will an AI fashionista have? It's worth remembering that a recent AI-judged beauty contest picked primarily white winners.  
  • You cool with Amazon having the capability to see and perhaps catalog every single article of clothing you own? Who needs a Calvin Klein dash button if your Echo can tell when you need new underwear? Will Alexa prevent you from buying a pair of JNCOs? 
  • You cool with Amazon putting a camera in your bedroom? 
  • Amazon store images and videos taken by Echo Look indefinitely, the company told us. Audio recorded by the original Echo has already been sought out in a murder case; to its credit, Amazon fought a search warrant in that case.  

"All photos and video captured with your Echo Look are securely stored in the AWS cloud and locally in the Echo Look app until a customer deletes them," a spokesperson for the company said. "You can delete the photos or videos associated with your account anytime in the Echo Look App."

Motherboard also asked if Echo Look photos, videos, and the data gleaned from them would be sold to third parties; the company did not address that question.

Update, 4/27/17: An Amazon spokesperson said information about third party information sharing was unintentionally omitted from the original statement the company sent us. "We do not provide any personal information to advertisers or to third party sites that display our interest-based ads," the company said. More information about Amazon's interest-based ads is available here.

As technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci points out, machine learning combined with full-length photos and videos have at least the potential to be used for much more than selling you clothes or serving you ads. Amazon will have the capability to detect if you're pregnant and may be able to learn if you're depressed. Her whole thread is worth reading.

Look, people buy personal assistants because they're fun to show off at parties, they're kind of cool, in some cases they might be convenient. My dad bought my mom a Google Home because she already had every other gadget and it was just another thing. They may make our lives ever-so-slightly easier and to some extent they do make us feel like we're living "in the future." 

In practice, the Echo Look isn't much different than, say, a Nest camera or an internet-connected baby monitor (the latter of which gets hacked all the time, by the way). But the addition of artificial intelligence and Amazon's penchant for using its products to sell us more stuff makes this feel more than a bit Black Mirror-ish

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