It’s easy to see every mistake now, Amazon.
Welcome to the big leagues, Amazon. After just three days of people being able to use Alexa Calling and Messaging on the Echos we already have, you’ve met the first of many public rebukings when it comes to user privacy. And there will probably be plenty more.
The internet loves it when the big guy makes a mistake.
Amazon has always been one of those companies that collects gigantic mountains of user data anywhere and everywhere it can; It was never really that much different from the Facebooks and Googles of the world in that regard. But because most people only think of Amazon as that place where you can buy the thing you really need and have it overnighted to the front door, it has escaped much of the outrage over how it treats that data. Most people never noticed how you would see fine-tuned recommendations from Amazon all over the web if you had an account, or if we did we didn’t much care because seeing things you like is better than seeing ads for things you don’t. But now things will be very different.
When you move from a device that’s always listening to every word but is there to tell you the whether to buy a box of Tide to a full-fledged communication platform, the things you do get scrutinized much more closely. Things like not being able to block incoming calls made on your new platform seem more important than building a customer profile that tells Amazon when your kid’s birthday is because that’s information you let Amazon have. In 15 years, when our kids have their own Amazon accounts and there’s a full history of all the things they liked since they were babies, we might freak out a little bit, but right here and right now we can see that Amazon lets “anyone into our living room” through Alexa Calling. When the Echo Show finds its way into everyone’s house and a face gets attached to those calls, there will be more freakouts. Promise.
I’m not discounting the attention this is getting. Yes, this is no different than when we used to have real paper phone books with our names and addresses in them, but Ma Bell gave us an opt out. Amazon needs to do the same and add a “block unknown caller” setting. I’ll bet it is doing it right now and we’ll see it soon. And to be perfectly honest, having any company get more attention when it comes to privacy is a good thing because it makes everyone pay closer attention. Facebook, Google, Microsoft and every other company that routinely collects copious amounts of data and offers services that use it are paying attention. They don’t want to be the next Twitter target.
We need to look at everything Amazon does and make our own decisions before we call Mom on her new Echo Show.
On our side, we need to take a look at everything about Alexa Calling instead of just focusing on the new parts. It undoubtedly is connected to the other data Amazon has always collected, and we need to make an informed decision about trusting Amazon with our voices and faces. It’s not that what it is doing is inherently bad; data collection can make a good service better. The value of what it’s offering may very well be worth the information we have to give them. But that’s something we should have already been doing when we asked Alexa to turn on our lights and remind us to buy a Mother’s Day gift.