New Amazon robot is branded a ‘privacy nightmare’

Amazon's Astro robot can follow users around the house

Credit: Amazon

Amazon’s £1,000 home robot has been labelled a "privacy nightmare" by one of its own developers as the tech giant pushes the limits on what technology consumers will welcome into their homes.

The US technology giant revealed Astro, a robot assistant that is able to patrol a user’s home, alert its owners to the presence of strangers, and act as a roving security camera.

Amazon’s David Limp said he was "thrilled to introduce a new kind of household robot". 

The three-wheeled bot will be able to "proactively patrol your home and investigate activity". The robot features a version of the tech giant’s Alexa, its voice assistant, which will allow it to play music or host video calls through a front mounted screen.

But some developers of the robot are concerned about its potentially invasive nature, Vice reported.

One person who had worked on the Astro robot project told the website: "In my opinion [Astro is] a privacy nightmare that is an indictment of our society and how we trade privacy for convenience."

The developer also warned the robot "will almost certainly fall down stairs in real world users’ homes". Another person who worked on the project told Vice: "Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity."

Amazon’s Astro robot was among a host of new devices using its Alexa voice assistant technology it introduced this week. The company has continued to position itself at the centre of a user’s smart home with a range of cameras, video screens and appliances such as smart doorbells and thermostats.

The robot will be able to use a form of facial recognition to make sure that people around the home are its owners. If a stranger is detected, it can alert its owner. Amazon said users could delete their "visual ID" from its devices, and their profile would be automatically deleted after 18 months.

The robot's sentry mode sees watch for intruders

Credit: Amazon

Fears have previously been raised over the privacy credentials of smart devices. In 2019, it was revealed that thousands of contractors were listening to Alexa recordings in a bid to improve their accuracy. Users are able to turn off this function and stop Amazon using their recordings.

Analysts said Amazon was pushing the boundaries of what consumers would accept in their home. Richard Windsor, an independent analyst, said its new products look like "an experiment to see how much privacy users are willing to surrender in return for fun and convenience".

Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, said: "As with other Amazon products, there is no question the Astro robot will become a lightning conductor in the privacy debate – but ultimately it is up to consumers to decide whether they want this type of technology in their homes. This product will be the litmus test for convenience versus privacy."

An Amazon spokesman said: "These characterisations of Astro’s performance, mast, and safety systems are simply inaccurate. Astro went through rigorous testing on both quality and safety, including tens of thousands of hours of testing with beta participants. This includes comprehensive testing on Astro’s advanced safety system, which is designed to avoid objects, detect stairs, and stop the device where and when necessary."

The spokesman pointed to a blog post which said Astro will not always stream live video when it moves, that it will clearly indicate when it is streaming audio or video, that users can turn off Astro’s cameras and sensors, and it can be set up not to enter certain parts of the home.

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