Amazon is a company that has gone from being an innovative online book retailer, to one of the largest ecommerce retailers in the world, and is now the largest cloud computing provider and a major player in IoT.In addition to their core ecommerce website, Amazon has a line of internet connected ebook readers, personal tablets, a smartphone, a smart TV device, and now their latest, an intellig
ent personal assistant for the home.
Their new product is the Echo. It’s a small, relatively discreet IoT connected speaker that works in much the same way as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Now services. Are there enough compelling features with the Echo to make it a breakthrough device in IoT mass adoption? More importantly, are there risks with having an always on, always listening, IoT device in the home?
Why Amazon Echo is Good for IoT
Although IoT devices around the world have now exceeded 5 billion, there are still billions of consumers that haven’t seen the value, or even recognized the potential of a more connected home. The consumer market is still in the early adopter stage, which means two things;
While there are numerous devices available, such as wirelessly connected garden sprinklers, smart smoke alarms, smart power switches, and even IoT lighting systems, there’s nothing quite like Echo on the market.
Echo is at heart, a voice controlled personal assistant. It has much in common with the aforementioned Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. The benefit of an Echo, is that you don’t need to talk to your smartphone to use it, and it’s completely hands free. It is also always on.
The Echo will allow users to,
From the eyes of the consumer, it is a compelling device, but there are reasons why the Echo is potentially beneficial to the entire consumer IoT market. Whereas other personal assistants are tied to smartphones, the Echo can operate independently. This allows users voice control over devices in their homes, and all they need to do is speak. The echo is always listening for the trigger phrase ‘Alexa’. So there’s no cumbersome opening of apps or removing a phone from a pocket etc. The fact that it easily integrates with other IoT devices will make it even more compelling, and could lead to complementary sales of other products such as smart lights, fans, and smart TV peripherals.
Should Users be Cautious of a Cloud Based Recording Device in their Home?
For all the positive press that has surrounded the launch of the Amazon Echo, there has been almost as much concern raised. Although users aren’t always completely aware of their privacy (or lack of) when it comes to the cloud, a number of leading tech publications have published articles which at least mention the downsides of having an always on recording device in the home. ZDNet and The Inquisitor, are just two of the leading tech coverage sites that raised security concerns along with their standard feature pieces.
As IoT technology becomes more prevalent, security is becoming a hot topic. Veracode and HP are two companies that have studied security on popular home devices. HP found that 70% of the top home IoT devices had an average of 25 security holes. These ranged from unsecured data transfer, to outdated remote access methods.
Considering that the Echo is constantly listening, it has the potential to store any audio it hears, on the cloud. This could be used for something mildly intrusive, like building an advertising profile for a user’s Amazon account, but in the wrong hands the uses could be more sinister. Imagine that criminals were able to illegally obtain data and perform identity theft, target individual houses for robberies, or even stalk individuals who are using the Echo. Consider all of the private things that are said in the average home, and it becomes obvious how dangerous that information could be in the wrong hands.
What are the Main Security Concerns Relating to the Amazon Echo?
While it is obvious that the Amazon Echo is an exciting piece of technology that makes it easier for consumers to get connected to IoT, there are still concerns when it comes to security and privacy.
The aim for businesses invested in IoT, should be transparency. Amazon can say that their system is secure and that user privacy is taken seriously, but without details and facts, this is hard to quantify or put into context.
This is one particular product that should be watched by observers and industry insiders alike, because it could well have implications for future releases from other companies. Most interesting will be how the Echo performs commercially, and how it holds up when it comes to security and user privacy in the cloud.