ProBeat: Amazon Halo is surveillance capitalism in a $100 fitness wearable

ProBeat: Amazon Halo is surveillance capitalism in a $100 fitness wearable


Amazon this week walked into the well being gadget market with a $100 fitness wearable and a $4 monthly subscription service. Amazon Halo stands out not for the dearth of a display screen, however reasonably its two “innovative” options: Body and Tone. The former makes use of pc imaginative and prescient, machine studying, and “a suite of algorithms that can generate your personalized 3D body model, BFP, and body model slider, a visual of how your body could change as you gain or lose body fat.” The latter makes use of machine studying to “analyze the positivity and energy of your voice — positivity is measured by how happy or sad you sound, and energy is how excited or tired you sound.”

Did Amazon study nothing from the criticisms of its inaccurate facial recognition tech Rekognition? Actually, I feel it discovered a lot. This time, it’s not promoting a problematic AI product to legislation enforcement (for now). Instead, it’s falling again on its tried and true technique of going straight to the supply: customers.

It was spectacular sufficient that Amazon single-handedly created the voice-activated good speaker class with a shock November 2014 announcement, in the end getting the Echo into hundreds of thousands of houses. But the Echo is restricted. Most variants don’t have a digital camera, and all variations are stationary. This is robust downside, particularly given that customers have (up to now) shunned cameras in wearables (see Google Glass). Amazon’s answer? Use your current smartphone to add photos of your self in your underwear and purchase a low cost band to document what you say wherever you might be. In different phrases, surveillance capitalism below the guise of fitness.

Amazon’s tackle fitness

Alexa, am I wholesome?

I’ve lengthy argued that the way forward for wearables is proactive well being care. I’m extraordinarily bullish on the concept a gadget that can provide you meals suggestions, relaxation reminders, and train options customized particularly to what you want primarily based on quantitative information measured out of your physique.

But this is not that. This is a steppingstone in the improper route. The similar week that Fitbit introduced Sense, which has extra sensors than some other Fitbit gadget in an try and empower you with actionable well being information, Amazon has unveiled the inherently flawed Halo.

While Fitbit backs up its well being information with encouragement to work with well being professionals, the one mentions of “doctor” in Amazon’s announcement is with respect to how Halo can change them. Furthermore, Amazon gives no scientific proof that making use of AI to photos and your voice can produce an “accurate body fat percentage” and “a more complete view of health and wellness.”

Never thoughts that Amazon doesn’t cite any research displaying AI can decide your well being from photos and sound. Just like with Rekognition, it should take years for these to be performed independently, in the event that they ever present up in any respect. The scientific technique takes time — time that Amazon can higher spend giving customers questionable insights and gathering worthwhile private information.

Amazon’s tackle privateness

Alexa, please inform Halo to cease recording everybody I discuss to and in my neighborhood.

Amazon is nicely conscious of Halo’s potential privateness issues. The firm is aware of that regardless of vowing to not use Fitbit information to focus on advertisements, Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition is dealing with a full EU antitrust probe.

Amazon noticed a potential information assortment backlash coming from miles away. While the shortest part in the Halo press launch is about privateness, it does hyperlink to a separate Amazon Halo Privacy web page that addresses some key issues proper off the bat. I took the freedom of including some notes:

  • You can simply obtain and delete your Halo well being information at any time instantly from the Settings part of the app. Boom. Will Amazon delete Halo well being information if I cease utilizing the gadget or paying my subscription?
  • Data is all the time encrypted in transit (“in transit” is when it strikes between your telephone and your band, or between your telephone and the cloud). So it’s not all the time encrypted?
  • We solely transfer information when completely essential, and we course of it as near the supply as potential. For instance, Tone speech samples are processed proper in your telephone after which routinely deleted — they by no means go to the cloud, and nobody ever hears them. But the ensuing Tone voice profile is honest recreation?
  • Your physique scan pictures are processed in the cloud and routinely deleted. After that, your 3D physique mannequin and scan pictures solely stay in your telephone until you’ve explicitly opted in to cloud backup. All that to say, solely you ever see them (until you select to point out them off your self). How can I confirm that my underwear photos have been deleted out of your servers?

That’s simply the “quick summary” on the high of the web page. Amazon does a respectable job of explaining the issues it desires to clarify. It’s what’s lacking on the web page that is actually telling. My greatest query: Why doesn’t Amazon promise to not promote my Halo information, or in opposition to my Halo information?

Amazon’s tackle advertisements

Alexa, please inform Amazon to cease transport me calming teas and dumbbells.

And therein lies the entire level of this train, no pun supposed. We lined the surveillance half, so now let’s discuss in regards to the capitalism half. Amazon is aware of that well being care is massively profitable, particularly in the essentially damaged U.S. market. But the long-term income guess right here isn’t in the $100 per gadget nor the $48 annual payment. It’s in advertisements.

In addition to dominating retail and cloud, Amazon has a small however steadily rising advertisements enterprise. In Q2 2020, Amazon’s “other” income class that primarily covers its promoting enterprise was up 41% to $4.22 billion.

Amazon is the one firm at the moment in a position to problem the Google-Facebook duopoly in digital advertisements. Indeed, in June, eMarketer changed that widespread description of the digital advert market with “the Google-Facebook-Amazon triopoly.”

In addition to understanding your buy historical past, plus what you browse and seek for, Amazon wouldn’t thoughts monitoring your well being. The firm may simply promote you much more stuff if it thought it knew how your physique was doing and the way you have been feeling. Letting advertisers goal you with that information, à la Facebook and Google, couldn’t harm.

For Amazon, fitness wearable = surveillance + capitalism.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about no matter crosses him that week.

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