By Dan Moren
September 25, 2020 8:59 AM PT
Amazon is selling safety with a side of paranoia
Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.
Writing at Fast Company, Jared Newman adroitly points out that a central thread of Amazon’s product announcements this week is that they’re based on fear of crime:
The rapid-fire video presentation had a lot to take in, but through it all, there was one clear, recurring theme: Danger is everywhere; Amazon can make you safe again. Amazon’s vision for the smart home is an increasingly fearful one, in which intruders must be persistently fended off. Even previously innocent products like the Echo speaker now play a key role Amazon’s ever-expanding security push.
Personally, I’m still goggling a bit at the idea of a drone that flies around your house with a security camera. Having played many stealth action games in my life, these are the kinds of thing that you end up sneaking around to avoid, and it is wild to me that somebody—really, many somebodies—decided that this was a product worth making. I showed this to my wife and it earned an instant “nope”, a sentiment with which I—a self-acknowledged smart home tech enthusiast—wholeheartedly agree. This is just a bridge too far.
Meanwhile, there’s also a Ring car alarm which you can use to remotely sound a siren—because car sirens have definitely proven to be effective1 and not at all annoying. And a mailbox security sensor. And your Echo now listens for more things to warn you about. It seems like you’re going to be getting notifications every few seconds about something to worry about, and frankly, I already get that same effect from news alerts.
Look, I’m not immune to these concerns about safety. As a new homeowner, I bought a couple of Eufy wireless security cameras for my house, not least of all because we haven’t moved in yet, and I wanted to keep an eye on the place. But I also don’t feel the need to turn my house into a fortress. Amazon, however, seems to be of the opinion that your house, car, and property all need 24/7 protection because crime is everywhere.
Moreover, Amazon is also making a big point of networking its devices together—and not just your devices. Amazon Sidewalk, which is enabled on new Amazon Echo devices and Ring cameras and will also be offered to owners of existing devices, connects these smart devices throughout your neighborhood. Which proponents might argue creates a sort of digital “Neighborhood Watch” situation—but that’s a type of organization that is certainly not without deep-rooted problems in issues like racial discrimination.2
And while I hesitate to throw out statistics, the latest crime numbers from the FBI (which covers 2018—the 2019 numbers are still pending) suggest that burglaries are way down in the last decade. Whether there’s an effect from the fact that society is just generally more surveilled—i.e. not only the growth of smart home tech, but also the fact that we’re all carrying smart communications devices with cameras these days—is nothing more than supposition on my part, but it is an interesting consideration when put up against this sales pitch on Amazon’s part.3
Frankly, though, the biggest question for me about selling a home security drone at this particular moment in time is: who the heck is leaving their house enough that they need this?
But, hey, fear sells, and Amazon surely knows that. That said, one thing that I don’t think gets enough attention here is the fine line between surveillance and safety: sure, these products might protect you from people physically entering your homes…but you’re also inviting in even more devices that can watch and track you. So, in the net, are you really actually any safer?
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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