OPINION: Amazon will give you a Map View of your home, showing all Alexa devices for an at-a-glance view and simplified control. But, as always, you only get as good as you give.
Call me a weary old cynic if you wish – you wouldn’t be wrong – but it always pays to ask ‘what’s in it for Amazon?’ when the company makes smart home announcements, as it did during an event yesterday.
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The idea is simple: once you’ve mapped out your entire home using your LiDAR-enabled iPhone or iPad Pro, you’ll be able to see your Alexa devices on a floor plan.
The feature sounds really useful and eminently justifiable. After all, if you have a lot of Alexa devices in your home, scrolling through a list of devices to find the one you want can be a pain.
Essentially it’s being pitched as an easier way to manage that. You can look at your floor plan on the map and interact with the devices by tapping the icons. It’ll be handy to see the doors are locked via a padlock icon. It’ll be useful to see if you left that office lamp on after going to bed.
“Today, millions of customers have more than 20 devices connected to Alexa. That’s incredible momentum, but we know it can be hard to manage that many devices,” Charlie French, Amazon’s director of smart home said during yesterday’s reveal event. “Even I struggle scrolling through a long list of devices trying to find that device with a name I can’t remember. We knew we had to make it easier.”
The cumulative effect of opting-in
However, while this will be really useful, it’s another super convenient smart home feature that comes with privacy-based caveats. You have to give something to get something and we should worry about the cumulative effect of these Smart Home features.
When Amazon bought iRobot – the makers of the Roomba Robot – it dawned on me that that, atop the masses of data Amazon can determine through its smart home gear, it could now draw a map using smart vaccum cleaners.
Now, maybe even as a result of the value of this data, Amazon is overtly offering people the chance to map out their most intimate spaces. In isolation, the Map View isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but think about the masses of data Amazon can now hoover up from your home?
If you have an Echo speaker, it knows every utterance (it’s “not listening” but is listening for the wake word has never really flown with me). If you have a Ring security camera, it can see who comes and goes.
If you have smart light bulbs, smart locks, a thermostat, you name it, Amazon can get an idea of your own comings and goings. Have a Fire TV? It knows what you watch. Shop at Whole Foods? It knows what you’re cooking up at night and knows how often you buy staple items.. Hopefully none of you bought one of those dumb Halo fitness bands that 3D-scanned your body composition? *Shudder*.
Most of these products have made undeniably made life easier for our convenience-focused tech generation, but if this had happened all at once we’d have never accepted it. The culmination is a full-on incursion into our private spaces.
Sometimes you have to say the quiet part out loud. Amazon has bugged our homes. And a lot of us (myself included) accept it because of the convenience of adjusting the thermostat or lighting without leaving the comfort of the couch, or even picking up the phone sat next to us.
The cynics among us might point out that having a map of the home might be another way for Amazon to sell us non smart home products – which is still how it makes the vast majority of its money. However, if you don’t have an Echo in your spare roo, guess what you’re seeing in your recommendations. An area of the home that’s far from your router? Well what about an Eero bridge Wi-Fi router?
Amazon points out that your privacy is protected in all of this. The Map View tool is opt-in. You don’t have to scan all of your rooms and you don’t have to include all devices. That’s great and all, but it goes back to my original point: You have to give something to get something from Amazon. There’s always a trade-off.
If you said “yes” to all of these trade-offs so far, then the picture Amazon has of your home life is quite scary indeed.
Put it this way, if it was the government, you might think again. If it was the 1960s at the height of McCarthyism, you’d be terrified. Citizens back then would be mortified and questioning our sanity at how implicit we are in the surrender of our private spaces to one of the most powerful companies in the world.