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By Dan Moren

Amazon Key wants to let people into your house

Amazon’s new Key service is intended to let packages be delivered inside your home, but it’s clearly just the beginning. From the press release:

This state-of-the-art technology doesn’t simply replace a key with a digital passcode. Each time a delivery driver requests access to a customer’s home, Amazon verifies that the correct driver is at the right address, at the intended time, through an encrypted authentication process. Once this process is successfully completed, Amazon Cloud Cam starts recording and the door is then unlocked. No access codes or keys are ever provided to delivery drivers. And, for added peace of mind, in-home delivery is backed by Amazon’s Happiness Guarantee.

The Cloud Cam is a new Internet-enabled security camera that Amazon is selling for $120, or for $250 bundled with one of several compatible smart locks.

Amazon Cloud Cam

But, okay, look, is this really the best solution? I understand that Amazon packages sometimes get stolen from doorsteps or that some people don’t live in areas where there’s a convenient place to leave packages. And yes, all of us at some point or other have probably missed a package that required a signature and then done the dance of trying to get it from UPS or FedEx. All valid problems that this could solve.

And yet the idea of letting people I don’t know into my house is straight-up anathema. Amazon is, for its part, trying to do its best to encourage accountability and safety by having cameras where you can review the delivery, or by telling its drivers not to open doors more than they have to, and so on, but at the root of it, this is about giving people access to your home while you’re not in.

Because Amazon makes no bones about the idea that this is directed at building up more and more home-based services through which Amazon can essentially act as an intermediary; the company specifically suggests it can be used for ancillary services like cleaning and pet care. It’s not a far leap to imagine Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods meaning that you’ll pretty soon be able to have groceries delivered and put in your refrigerator while you’re out. Maybe that’s the world we’re moving towards; I’m not sure it’s one that I want—but hey, my tastes aren’t everybody’s. There are probably some busy people for whom this could be a life-saver, but I wonder what the costs—and I’m not talking money—might be.

The other part of this announcement that got my attention was the Cloud Cam. There’s nothing fundamentally new about this tech: Nest, Canary1, Netgear, and more all offer Internet-based security cameras. But then there’s this from The Verge article about the Cloud Cam:

The device has motion detection and computer vision. The first half of that equation is pretty simple to explain. Amazon is promising that the camera will be able to detect motion and automatically record a video clip for you to review later, along with sending a notification.

The second part is more interesting, but not yet fully baked. Amazon says Cloud Cam will send clips to the cloud for review. Over time, it should be able to learn what belongs in the house, like, say, your dog, and stop triggering alerts every time it sees the pooch walking around. “With intelligence that lives in the AWS cloud, over time you will see more advanced detection, alerts, and other new features become available in the service and on the camera itself, such as advanced audio alerts or pet detection, without having to purchase a new device,” Amazon says. [emphasis added]

Cloud intelligence and machine learning seem to be the underpinning of so many new techs and, as cool as they are, it gives me pause to hand over footage of my house, even for the purpose of machine-learning.2 There’s a reason Apple emphasizes that it does its machine-learning on device.

Plus, what other algorithms might Amazon be looking to hone here? Noticing when you’re out of pet food and automatically ordering more? Seeing that your kid broke a toy and suggesting you buy a replacement? Amazon’s still a retail business at the end of the day, so it’s always worth thinking about how its products draw a line to that.


  1. Full disclosure: Canary sponsored one of my podcasts and sent me a unit.  ↩

  2. Yes, I have more than a few Echos in the house, but I’m more comfortable with audio being processed than video. That’s just my line—other people might be different.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]