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;
- The products going to market have the responsibility of championing the argument for IoT.
- These products should address concerns and reservations that people have in regards to a connected home.
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,
- Receive daily news reports in natural language, including audio clips from leading media companies.
- Ask for the weather.
- Ask for recipes, information on people, places, and things, and get help for all kinds of research using results from Amazon and Wikipedia.
- Set appointments, alarms, memos, and input text into compatible smartphone apps on iOS or Android.
- Listen to music through internet streaming services.
- Control other IoT devices in the home, such as Philips Hue lighting.
- Order products from Amazon.com
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?
- Although it is not always listening in the sense that it is recording, it always has the potential to listen. It requires a keyword to interact with it, but it is always listening for that key word. Security compromises, or even future malware could enable the Echo to listen and mine data continuously.
- Users are not informed how long it takes the Echo to stop recording, after interacting with it. Amazon has so far not commented on this.
- At this stage, Amazon has not commented on the type of information that is retained, how long it is retained for, how it is used, and where it is stored. This has obvious security implications. Logically it would be stored in the Amazon cloud. Is that data anonymized, is it encrypted during transfer, and who has access to that data? (http://www.inquisitr.com/1593742/amazon-echo-interests-many-raises-privacy-concerns-for-many-more/)
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.