The Amazon Echo Look – fashion guru or privacy concern?

With the huge success of the Amazon Echo, and Amazon Dot devices, it was only a matter of time before the online retail giant looked to capitalize on even more customer-centric data, and the brand new Echo Look seems to be just such a device.  While it is not available to everyone, Amazon have started taking requests for the device, which they are currently pricing at $200.

The device itself has a built in camera and microphone, and so far it’s main job seems to be judging the owners wardrobe, and giving advice on what outfits looks good on them.  This in itself doesn’t sound too worrying, but when asked what the future holds for the data stored on Amazon’s servers, the company doesn’t want to speculate just yet.  Now, it is true that sometimes the consumer can get a little carried away with the paranoia associated with personal data, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t due cause for concern sometimes.  After all, full length daily pictures of all Echo Look customers could be used in some extremely disconcerting ways.  While Amazon promise not to sell the data to third parties, they will not confirm whether the data will be used to target sales within their own ecosystem.  This again is not so much of a worry, but lets take a look at some less ethical uses of this data Amazon has refused to rule out.

Profiling: Sometimes it’s OK, sometimes it’s not

Imagine the scene, you are getting ready to go out to your friend’s party, and you aren’t quite sure what to wear.  Fear not, your Amazon Echo Look will help!  You put on your favorite pair of jeans, a little t-shirt, and a wonderful pair of heels you purchased last week.  You then ask Alexa (yes you refer to the Look the same way as you refer to the Echo and Dot) to compare your current outfit with the outfit you wore yesterday.  Using machine learning, and advice from style experts, Alexa will respond with a recommendation of which outfit is more ‘in’ with current trends, and which one it thinks looks better on you.  This all sounds quite innocent really doesn’t it?  But what if Amazon starts to merge this information it collects from the Look, with the information from your Amazon shopping habits?  This could lead to some very awkward recommendations.

If, and only If, Amazon decide to merge the data sets, will we be recommended products dependent on our current mood?  Our skin color?  Whether we are overweight, or pregnant?  What if, in the infancy of machine learning, Alexa starts to recommend products for help with weight loss to pregnant women?  What if Alexa starts to recommend certain foods and products in a certain price bracket based on how dark or light someone’s skin is?  Now, we must emphasize, this isn’t what Amazon have said will happen at all, but what they have said is “we can’t speculate on whether we will use data on anything other than fashion advice”.  That comment doesn’t bode well for anyone who already has privacy concerns over the far less capable Amazon Dot or Echo.  The power that Amazon wields here is huge, and even if they ‘do the right thing’, and allay all privacy concerns regarding how the data will be used, the company is only one data breach away from landing in a mother load of trouble.  Compromising photos of millions of customers would be seen as a major treasure trove for the less ethical hackers of this world, and as such Amazon would position themselves as a major target.

Seeing as Amazon obviously wouldn’t want to alienate any of their customers by suggesting purchases that are dubious or even offensive, the biggest worry for the consumer at the moment surely has to be the fact these pictures are stored on Amazon servers.  The level of worry will be reversed if they do start merging data however, but until then we should give the company their due, and expect them to do the ethically correct thing.  Not because they have a conscience, but because they value our wallets. Bad publicity in the privacy sphere is extremely bad business, and Amazon knows this.  Whether they get hacked is an entirely different matter, and giant companies aren’t exactly immune to that sort of thing, cast your mind back to the Apple iCloud debacle where many celebrities had risque photos of them plastered over the internet for all to see. Whether the consumer has forgotten about that sort of issue remains to be seen, but we are sure to find out when the Amazon Echo Look goes on sale later in the year.  If you are interested in jumping the queue, head over to Amazon and sign up for the pre release.

All images courtesy of Amazon Look press release

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