You’re in your bedroom, about to do something private.
First, make sure you shut the door, close the blinds, oh, and remember to turn off your newly purchased Amazon Echo Look.
A video camera peering into a bedroom is typically associated with the opening of a horror flick, not the latest cheery announcement from your friendly $300 billion mega corporation. That all changed Wednesday when the Seattle-based online retail giant unveiled the Echo Look.
What is the Look? Superficially, it’s a $200 cloud-connected camera that ties in with Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. However, the Look’s unique features suggest that the tool could be even more problematic than your standard poorly secured wireless webcam.
That’s because the Look is designed to be much more than a selfie-taking Echo.
“See yourself from every angle with the companion app,” explains Amazon’s ad copy. “Get a second opinion on which outfit looks best with Style Check, a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.”
That’s right, Amazon wants to judge your outfit (and sell you a new one in the process).
Importantly, this analysis isn’t just a public service meant to assist the chronically mismatched. Rather, the Look is intended to “[help] you discover new brands and styles inspired by your lookbook.” In this case, the lookbook is a digital collection of “what you wore and when.”
With Style Check, Amazon is essentially angling to replace your bedroom mirror while selling you a new fleece.
Importantly, when you take a photo with the Look, you’re potentially giving the tech giant a lot more data than just the type of chinos you sport. The pictures can reveal socioeconomic status, whether you’re married, religious affiliation (hello cross above your bed), and potentially a lot more.
All this is fair game as far as Amazon is concerned, which isn’t exactly reassuring.
“Amazon may display interest-based advertising using information customers make available to us when they interact with our sites, content, or services,” a spokesperson said.
What might this mean if you have a Look? At this point it’s just speculation, but Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, has some ideas.
When asked if Amazon would ever sell information (data taken from photos of your bedroom, for example) gleaned from the Look, a spokesperson pointed to an Alexa and Echo FAQ that doesn’t directly answer the question.
Fortunately, Amazon did confirm that it will not use this newly acquired trove of data — your favorite $2,000 shoes suggesting you have loads of disposable income, for example — to show one set of prices to you and another set to other consumers.
So that’s a relief, albeit a small one that leaves many unanswered questions.
Amazon, after all, is a company whose sole purpose is to extract money from you. As such, it’s hard to imagine that customers will truly trust Style Check to give unbiased fashion and shopping advice.
Whether anyone will trust Amazon with a camera in their bedroom is another question altogether.