Amazon’s Alexa on Wheels Sparks Fresh Concerns About Privacy

Published on 02 Oct 2021

At an invite-only press conference last Tuesday, Amazon introduced the world to its latest product, Astro, an autonomous robot that is akin to a Roomba with an Alexa tablet mounted on top.

What is Astro?

Astro is a home robot. It weighs roughly 20 pounds, has wheels, a cupholder, and a tablet for a face. The tablet has large cute eyes. The robot is equipped with cameras, voice recognition, facial recognition, mapping technology, and artificial intelligence. All of this makes it possible for Astro to zip around user’s homes, recognize people within the home, and record video. Imagine if you took your existing Alexa smart speaker and attached it to a Roomba. The robot even goes back to its own charging dock when it needs more battery.

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Astro’s design draws heavy inspiration from science fiction, it will remind many of Pixar’s Wall-E. In a 2-minute video shared during the conference, the company highlighted how Astro could follow users around, show live feeds from the home when you are away. Take action if it suspects the home is being broken into. And even deliver a beer via its built-in cup holder. Its large animated eyes give the robot a non-threatening cute appearance.

Why are people concerned about Astro?

Over the past year, concerns have been raised about the amount of data being tracked by big tech companies and how responsibly they handle such data. According to Amazon Astro navigates around a home using infrared light pings. Data collected is processed onboard and is not sent to the cloud. However, Astro uses the data it collects to create a map of the home. This map is sent to and stored on the cloud. Amazon combines the data it receives from Astro with other data like customer-provided room names, readings of Wi-Fi signal strength to create a map of the home.

Back in 2019, Amazon caused controversy when it was reported that Amazon employees listen to Alexa recordings in order to train their AI. Judges in the United States have been issuing warrants to get access to Alexa recordings. Amazon has also stated that some employees at the company even have access to the location information of the speakers that made the recordings. All of this paints a worrying picture about how private and secure user’s data really is. Now with Astro, the company will have the ability to not only listen to its customers but also watch them.

What’s your opinion on Astro? A helpful gadget that will make life easier or a worrying invasion of privacy? Subscribe to Whitepapers.online for more information.

Feature image: Amazon