The Amazon Echo (Horror) Show

Drop In? Bog off.

Amazon Echo Show

Mat Honan has been writing on Buzzfeed about his experiences of living with the Amazon Echo Show.

The Echo Show, you'll remember, is Amazon's latest Alexa-powered device but comes with the benefit (?) of a built-in camera and touchscreen.

Honan's article is well worth a read for a number of reasons, but this part in particular sprung out at me:

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let's say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, "Alexa, drop in on Dad." It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father's device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father's video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he'll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn't answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Honestly, I haven’t figured out what to think about this yet. But it's here.

I don't have the words to express just how ghastly this is...

Why would anyone ever want to turn on a feature like that?

Remind me never to be a house guest in a home which has purchased an Amazon Echo Show.

For more discussion of this topic be sure to listen to this recent episode of the "Smashing Security" podcast:

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10 Responses

  1. Chris

    June 28, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    'Why would anyone ever want to turn on a feature like that?'

    If you were the parent/carer for somebody too old/young/ill/disabled etc to activate it themselves and you needed to speak to them and ensure everything was OK. That said, I doubt that's specifically the purpose of the feature and no, I wouldn't want it switched on in my home either.

    • Graham Cluley in reply to Chris.

      June 28, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks for the response Chris. A couple of people on Twitter came back to me with a similar scenario and I can see that that might be appropriate.

      But, I wonder, wouldn't this edge case scenario – in most situations – be handled better by having the sick or elderly relative use the Echo Show's voice activation feature to accept the incoming connection?

      My hunch is that this feature is likely to be abused by controlling personalities wanting to keep tabs on their partners.

      • Simon in reply to Graham Cluley.

        June 28, 2017 at 10:54 am #

        Not if they're lying collapsed on the floor. But then of course you'll have to have a device in every room of the house to make it useful……

        I can also see it as a useful feature for parents wanting to check up on their children who are old enough to be left at home alone but not old enough to be responsible, or checking the dog hasn't eaten the cat.

        But certainly Amazon need to be educating people on how to use this. It could be abused too easily. It is a fairly visible device though, and if I really wanted to spy on my spouse, there are more discrete ways to do it

        • Graham Cluley in reply to Simon.

          June 28, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

          "Not if they're lying collapsed on the floor. But then of course you'll have to have a device in every room of the house to make it useful……"

          You'd also have to position the Echo Show very carefully on the floor, or maybe in a slight dip. It angles up, y'see, giving that rather unattractive angle of neck and face from beneath often suffered by those who have their laptop webcam in the hinge between their keyboard and screen rather than at the top of the screen.

          My guess is that it won't spot people lying on the floor and unable to communicate. We need to ask our loved ones to do their best to collapse over the toaster or breakfast bar instead.

  2. Jan

    June 28, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    I think this is really cool stuff, an quite amazin idea. When you live together with someone, they don't ask your permission to enter the livingroom. This is just building a bridge between households, making the virutal world a little more organic and tangible. It's that disrupting type of technology that we have to get used to at first, develop a new mindset, but in the end it will feel just natural I bet. Remember the time, when having a mobile phone felt like wearing an electronic dog lead?

    But I'll be happy to remind you to never be house guest in a home where someone you don't expect is in a room and might show up at some point… ;)

    • DaB in reply to Jan.

      July 1, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

      Yeah like every time I leave a room in a friend's house for a "few seconds" I want to be notified somebody has entered the room I come back into. But oops, my friend also left the room during that time so even they don't know the monitoring is On & somebody not visible is remotely 'present' too.

      Privacy also is "organic", even between partners. The ability to choose when you're in company, observable/listenable, how you'll interact, etc is not only a personal right, but a psychologically health necessity.

      This thing works the same as reviled negative response exploitation by marketers – they automatically assume you're opted into whatever they want to throw at you unless you go thru their hurdles to opt out, but by then your house is already out of their barn. You really want to opt into giving 24×7 carte blanche audio+visual access to whomever you've allowed to ring you up unless you take quick halting action for each of all those moments you + everyone present want some privacy???

      Remember the Issac Asimov story about a future society where the only way people were present with each other was via holograms? In it people grew to be very uncomfortable with the actuality of a real other person in their presence. Kinda reminds me of seeing people physically together but all are interacting with somebody via smartphone instead of face-to-face eye-to-eye voice-to-ear communication + an occasional touch – is this really a cool future? NOT

  3. JIm Goodyear

    June 28, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    Yet again, Graham, you have pointed out the inherent dangers and risks of allowing any kind of toehold of the 'Internet of Things' into your life.
    I cannot imagine a situation where I would ever allow this kind of device into my life or my house.
    As and when I finally need to wear some kind of safety alarm, I shall be doing my damnedest to ensure that it has nt 'I o T' abilities or connections.
    It was bad enough to imagine Big Brother as an ever watchful and ruling state mechanism; but now, to have to imagine Big Brother as a group of malevolent thieving Hackers, acting together or independently, is why I absolutely refuse to allow any kind of Hive or Alexa type device anywhere near me and mine !

  4. Mark Jacobs

    June 28, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    What worries me most about this kind of technology is, when something as ubiquitous as this first gets hacked, the hackers will keep quiet about it and not "boast" their hacking talents online. They'll just circulate the hack on the dark web and the black hats will have field day peering into people's homes all over the world, for quite some time before it's discovered!

  5. Erik Given

    June 28, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    In the realm of cyber-security, all technology has a good use and a bad use. This tech, keyloggers, macros and anything else. I have been in the ADP, NT, IT field (whatever it has been called in each phase) for 27 years. Given me a piece of IT technology and I can give a good scenario and a bad scenario for using each piece.

  6. Pete

    June 30, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

    I do not allow people to just "drop in" at my home. Everyone who knows me knows that. They wouldn't even think of "dropping in" unannounced. It's rude, inconsiderate, presumptuous, and frankly I don't have any family or friends who would tolerate it either. We respect each other's time, and we respect each other's property in the fact that we have lives of our own.

    But there's no argument here. I will simply never allow such a device in my home. Those who think this kind of intrusive "feature" is cool…well, have at it. I'll keep my privacy, and my ability to choose how I manage my time, thank you.

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