'Alexa For Residential' A Landlord's Dream (Tenant's Nightmare?)
Amazon has a new version of its Alexa devices and software that is designed for use by property managers (landlords). Amazon says it "ďmakes it easy for property managers to set up and manage Alexa-powered smart home experiences throughout their buildings.Ē
Landlords can set special Alexa commands that will let their residents pay rent, submit maintenance requests, and manage other things that normally come with the territory of renting an apartment or other dwelling. And of course, it will still function as a regular smart speaker ó dim the lights, get a weather report, all that jazz. Landlords can also remotely reset the device whenever someone moves out to give the device a clean slate for the next person.
Amazon claims in its press release that itís taken the steps necessary to protect the privacy of residents. Thereís just one issue that Amazon doesnít address in its announcement: the Drop In feature on Amazon Echo devices.
Drop In allows one Echo user to connect to another Echo userís device, as long as that user has granted them permission. They donít even need to be in the same household. As long as both devices are connected to the internet, Drop In functions like a Zoom call. With this feature enabled, you will be able to hear anything within the range of the device, see anything on the other side, in the case of an Echo Show, and also transmit your voice or video feed to the other device.
This short video presents Amazon's views about Alexa privacy issues.
(Amazon describes Alexa privacy features)
It's not clear whether or not Alexa for Residential violates the privacy of tenants, particularly if landlords require it for residency. It may be that the device has hardwired shut-off switches, but if the landlord requires that tenants not use them, then they don't matter.
Science fiction fans have several different viewpoints from which to choose. You could go with paranoia, and who better to present paranoia than Philip K. Dick?
Madness, he thought. The ultimate horror for our paranoid culture; vicious unseen mechanical entities that flit at the edges of our vision, that can go anywhere, that are in our very midst. And there may be an unlimited number of them. One of them following each of us...
(Read more about robot tracking device)
On the other hand, you could go with trust, and we have a good example of this presented by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. In their 1981 novel Oath of Fealty, the Todos Santos arcology is surveilled by its own private security services that are trusted by all tenants.
"...I guess I wouldn't want cameras in my bathroom, either."
"Oh, we've got them there," Blake said. "But they don't go on without authorization - there's one now."
The TV screen flicked to show a kitchen. A small boy was pulling things out of cabinets, scattering flour on the floor... Blake reached forward to a button under the screen... "Ma'am, this is Central Security. Somebody pushed the panic button in the kitchen and I think you'd better have a look..."
He waited. On the screen above, a woman... came into the kitchen, looked down in horror, and shouted "Peter!"