Amazon grocery store wants to be able to track you, must forfeit privacy to use

[Editor’s Note]

The hidden implications in this, go beyond privacy, which is admittedly a great concern.  Another implication of this idea is that by the implementation of this very system those behind the scenes will continue their push for a cashless society, which grants them greater control of individuals.  A grocery store that requires no cash couples to this idea all too conveniently.  Just food for thought.

Image: Amazon grocery store wants to be able to track you, must forfeit privacy to use
Vicki Batts
December 11, 2016

Amazon has recently launched their very own grocery store, Amazon Go. Their flagship location in Seattle features no check-outs and hopes to put the spotlight on the new, hassle-free shopping experience. The 1,800-square foot shopping space is currently limited to just the retail giant’s employees during the store’s beta program. It is expected to go public sometime in early 2017.

Shopping without having to wait in line at the check-out counter sounds quite advantageous, but will it really be all it’s cracked up to be? Perhaps not. After all, convenience comes with a price – and in this case, that price might just be your privacy.

In order to use the Amazon Go store, you will have to download and install the Amazon Go app. From there, you sign in with your account credentials, and go about your business. You simply take the  items you want off the shelves, put them in your bag and walk out. It’s not entirely clear how the app or the company will separate shoplifters from Amazon Go users. It’s likely that facial recognition technology is used to match you with your account – but either way, many feel that Amazon Go represents a substantial step forward into the future of the offline shopping experience. The real question is, what kind of future are we stepping into?

The store, and the shelves, come fully loaded with “computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.” This means that the store can detect when items are removed and placed back onto the shelf. After you leave the store, your account is charged. So, essentially, the store itself actually watches and tracks you to see what you are buying, and then it charges your account when you leave with what you’ve picked out. It also sounds a little bit like the store can pick up on your shopping habits too. “Deep learning” is a rather concerning term; who do you think they want to learn about, and why?

Amazon maintains that the development of Amazon Go comes from nothing but the purest intentions. They explain:

Four years ago we asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go?

Our answer to those questions is Amazon Go and Just Walk Out Shopping.

Installing an app is bad enough; many apps take in far more information than most people realize. For example, many apps will access and upload your contact lists and address books, and sell that information to other parties. The collection and sale of personal information is becoming increasingly common, especially among free apps – after all, that is a primary way for them to make money. There are plenty of other ways to invade personal privacy through cellphone apps – location tracking, for instance.

When it comes to Amazon, they are no strangers to privacy invasion. In addition to their new Big Brother-style store, the company has also recently launched the Amazon Echo – the home robot that hears just about everything you say and do. Alexa is the name given to the Amazon Echo, described as your own robotic personal assistant. Unlike its competitors, such as Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, the Echo is it’s very own device. It sits in your home, waiting for your command. All you have to do is say, “Alexa” and the device turns on and speaks. However, the device supposedly streams audio for “a fraction of a second” before the “wake word” is even spoken, and continues to stream audio until the request is “fulfilled.” The device also uploads an undisclosed amount of personal data to Amazon’s servers.  What for? Who knows. And while you can delete the audio files from the app for Alexa, it is not clear whether or not doing so also purges your personal information from the company’s servers.

So, Amazon can listen to you at home, and watch you while you go grocery shopping. What will they think of next?

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Amazon Echo Is The Ultimate Spy Device That Records Everything You Say

Amazon Echo
Ethan A. Huff
August 5, 2016

The world’s largest retailer is under fire for releasing a device that, according to some experts, is little more than a spying tool for government surveillance. The “Amazon Echo” device, a constantly-listening Bluetooth speaker that connects to music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify at the sound of a person’s voice, can be easily hacked and used by government agencies like the FBI to listen in on conversations.

Much like Apple’s iPhone, which contains a listening apparatus via “Siri” that can be activated in a room simply by speaking out loud, the Amazon Echo is programmed to listen for certain verbal commands telling it to turn on, for instance, or to connect to a certain app. Amazon says the device contains “far-field voice recognition” that can hear a person’s voice across the room, even while music is playing.

Not only does the Amazon Echo respond to commands, but it can even answer questions and read audiobooks aloud, as well as providing other on-demand services at a user’s verbal prompting. One can even control lighting in a house or adjust a programmable, WiFi-enabled thermostat like the Nest via an Amazon Echo, which for many people who are too lazy to perform these tasks using human cognition is a dream come true.

But this dream comes at a price, warn skeptics who’ve investigated the capability of the Amazon Echo to spy on people and deliver information to hackers or even government officials. Writing for ZD Net, Zack Whittaker explains that Amazon Echo’s transparency reports fail to outline everywhere where data from the device is sent, listing only Amazon’s cloud services as a source of data storage.

Is Amazon selling your family’s privacy to the federal government?

And yet, Amazon’s transparency reports admit that the company is routinely handed subpoenas, search warrants and court orders demanding information about users from government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Amazon has yet to indicate how many of these requests have actually been fulfilled, and those seeking answers have yet to find them.

“In many ways the Echo is a law enforcement dream,” writes Matt Novak for Paleo Future, a division of Gizmodo. Novak filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI back in March to find out if the federal agency had ever wiretapped an Amazon Echo, to which the agency responded that it could “neither confirm nor deny” – essentially an admission of guilt.

“Years ago agencies like the FBI would need to wiretap a phone conversation or place bugs inside homes, practices that can be cost prohibitive and labor intensive. Today, you just need some software to tap into a device’s microphone. And if that device is ‘always listening’ for a command, all the better for someone who wants to hear what’s going on.”

As of this writing, Amazon has reportedly sold some 3 million Amazon Echo speakers to unsuspecting consumers who apparently don’t mind that they’re basically paying a multinational corporation to spy on them, and possibly hand over private conversations and other information, including purchase information, music preferences and more to marketers and government infiltrators.

Smartphones and laptop computers really aren’t much better, as most of these devices these days contain both microphones and cameras that we know are capable of recording when they aren’t activated – and in some cases, when they’re not even on.

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