Amazon unveils bedside device that tracks sleeping patterns

Soon enough, a bedside Amazon device might know whether you’re sleeping — or not.

The e-commerce and tech giant said Wednesday it will start selling a device later this year that can track sleeping patterns without a wristband.

The device, called Halo Rise, will use no-contact sensors and artificial intelligence to measure a user’s movement and breathing patterns, allowing the device to track sleep stages during the night, the Seattle-based company said. Amazon said the device “does not include cameras or microphones,” and will go for $139.99.

The Halo Rise would be the latest device in Amazon’s Halo line, which includes a fitness tracker that can track physical activity and sleeping patterns. Amazon noted the device can connect with its virtual assistant, Alexa, and allow users to wake up to their favorite songs, and a light that “simulates the colors and gradual brightening of a sunrise.”

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Amazon plots to turn surveillance network into reality TV series

Comedian Wanda Sykes will host a new show, called “Ring Nation,” that will feature videos captured by Amazon Ring cameras, according to a report on Deadline. Amazon-owned MGM Television and Big Fish Entertainment will produce the show.

The show will feature funny and viral content captured by Ring cameras, like “neighbors saving neighbors, marriage proposals, military reunions and silly animals.”

Such videos can be entertaining and often go viral. However, they pull people’s attention from the mass surveillance Ring cameras conduct. Videos from Ring cameras have been used in investigations by law enforcement in the US and abroad, even pulling video from people’s doorbell cameras without a warrant.

By cultivating fears about crime in the suburbs and partnering with police departments, Amazon has aggressively rolled out Ring home surveillance cameras.

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Amazon’s Ring Camera Penetrates 18% Of Homes To Create Massive Surveillance Network

If you walk through your local neighborhood—providing you live in a reasonably large town or city—you’ll be caught on camera. Government CCTV cameras may record your stroll, but it is increasingly likely that you’ll also be captured by one of your neighbors’ security cameras or doorbells. It’s even more likely that the camera will be made by Ring, the doorbell and security camera firm owned by Amazon.

Since Amazon splashed out more than a billion dollars for the company in 2018, Ring’s security products have exploded in popularity. Ring has simultaneously drawn controversy for making deals (and sharing data) with thousands of police departments, helping expand and normalize suburban surveillance, and falling to a string of hacks. While the cameras can provide homeowners with reassurance that their property is secure, critics say the systems also run the risk of reinforcing racism and racial profiling and eroding people’s privacy.

Videos shared from security cameras and internet-connected doorbells have also become common on platforms like Facebook and TikTok, raking in millions of views. “Ring impacts everybody’s privacy,” says Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Most immediately, it impacts the people who walk down the streets every day, where the cameras are pointing out.”

While Ring is far from the only maker of smart doorbells and cameras—Google’s Nest line is another popular option—its connections to law enforcement have drawn the most criticism, as when it recently handed over data without warrants. So, what exactly does Ring collect and know about you?

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Amazon expanding its surveillance capabilities: $1.7 billion iRobot deal includes interior maps of millions of homes

On Friday, iRobot accepted Amazon’s $1.7 billion offer to purchase the robot vacuum company. If the deal goes through, pending shareholder and regulatory approval, the technology giant will receive a plethora of personal data, including the floor plans of millions of users’ homes.

In 2021, iRobot reported that over 40 million Roombas had been sold worldwide since the release of its first model in 2002. The small automated vacuum uses sensors to map out each room in a home. If the Federal Trade Commission approves the deal, this stored personal data will be handed over to Amazon. The company has yet to comment on how it plans to use this data.

The purchase of iRobot is just the latest deal initiated by Amazon. In 2018, it purchased Ring, a video doorbell company. That same year, Amazon acquired the wifi router manufacturer Eero. Amazon recently offered One Medical, a health care clinic chain, an all-cash $3.49 billion deal. The purchase would provide Amazon with the health data from 188 offices around the United States.

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AMAZON ADMITS GIVING RING CAMERA FOOTAGE TO POLICE WITHOUT A WARRANT OR CONSENT

RING, AMAZON’S PERENNIALLY controversial and police-friendly surveillance subsidiary, has long defended its cozy relationship with law enforcement by pointing out that cops can only get access to a camera owner’s recordings with their express permission or a court order. But in response to recent questions from Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the company stated that it has provided police with user footage 11 times this year alone without either.

Last month, Markey wrote to Amazon asking it to both clarify Ring’s ever-expanding relationship with American police, who’ve increasingly come to rely on the company’s growing residential surveillance dragnet, and to commit to a raft of policy reforms. In a July 1 response from Brian Huseman, Amazon vice president of public policy, the company declined to permanently agree to any of them, including “Never accept financial contributions from policing agencies,” “Never allow immigration enforcement agencies to request Ring recordings,” and “Never participate in police sting operations.”

Although Ring publicizes its policy of handing over camera footage only if the owner agrees — or if judge signs a search warrant — the company says it also reserves the right to supply police with footage in “emergencies,” defined broadly as “cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.” Markey had also asked Amazon to clarify what exactly constitutes such an “emergency situation,” and how many times audiovisual surveillance data has been provided under such circumstances. Amazon declined to elaborate on how it defines these emergencies beyond “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury,” stating only that “Ring makes a good-faith determination whether the request meets the well-known standard.” Huseman noted that it has complied with 11 emergency requests this year alone but did not provide details as to what the cases or Ring’s “good-faith determination” entailed.

Ring spokesperson Mai Nguyen also declined to reveal the substance of these emergency requests or the company’s approval process.

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Wickr, Amazon’s encrypted chat app, has a child sex abuse problem — and little is being done to stop it

Wickr Me, an encrypted messaging app owned by Amazon Web Services, has become a go-to destination for people to exchange images of child sexual abuse, according to court documents, online communities, law enforcement and anti-exploitation activists.

It’s not the only tech platform that needs to crack down on such illegal content, according to data gathered by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or NCMEC. But Amazon is doing comparatively little to proactively address the problem, experts and law enforcement officials say, attracting people who want to trade such material because there is less risk of detection than in the brighter corners of the internet.

NBC News reviewed court documents from 72 state and federal child sexual abuse or child pornography prosecutions where the defendant allegedly used Wickr (as it’s commonly known) from the last five years in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, using a combination of private and public legal and news databases and search engines. Nearly every prosecution reviewed has resulted in a conviction aside from those still being adjudicated. Almost none of the criminal complaints reviewed note cooperation from Wickr itself at the time of filing, aside from limited instances where Wickr was legally compelled to provide information via a search warrant. Over 25 percent of the prosecutions stemmed from undercover operations conducted by law enforcement on Wickr and other tech platforms. 

These court cases only represent a small fraction of the problem, according to two law enforcement officers involved in investigating child exploitation cases, two experts studying child exploitation and two people who have seen firsthand how individuals frequently use Wickr and other platforms for criminal transactions on the dark web. They point to direct knowledge of child exploitation investigations and sting operations, interviews with victims and perpetrators of abuse, and interactions with individuals soliciting child sexual abuse material as evidence that Wickr is being used by many people who exploit children.  

Posts linking Wickr and child sexual abuse material are also littered across the internet. On social media platforms such as Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter, NBC News found dozens of forums, accounts and blogs where hundreds of posts have been made soliciting minors, those who have access to them, or those interested in trading child sexual abuse material alongside Wickr screen names. No child sexual abuse imagery was viewed in the course of reporting this article.

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NEW AMAZON WORKER CHAT APP WOULD BAN WORDS LIKE “UNION,” “RESTROOMS,” “PAY RAISE,” AND “PLANTATION”

AMAZON WILL BLOCK and flag employee posts on a planned internal messaging app that contain keywords pertaining to labor unions, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Intercept. An automatic word monitor would also block a variety of terms that could represent potential critiques of Amazon’s working conditions, like “slave labor,” “prison,” and “plantation,” as well as “restrooms” — presumably related to reports of Amazon employees relieving themselves in bottles to meet punishing quotas.

“Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,” said Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait. “This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all.”

In November 2021, Amazon convened a high-level meeting in which top executives discussed plans to create an internal social media program that would let employees recognize co-workers’ performance with posts called “Shout-Outs,” according to a source with direct knowledge.

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Amazon’s Alexa dishes out potentially deadly challenge

Amazon says it has updated its voice assistant after it transpired that Alexa had suggested a 10-year-old girl touch a coin to the prongs of a partially inserted plug as a challenge.

The girl’s mother posted a tweet on Monday describing how her daughter had been doing some cold-weather indoor challenges set by a phys. ed. teacher on YouTube and was seeking another one. To the woman’s shock, Alexa suggested a “simple” task it had found on the web, whereby the participant “plug[s] in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch[es] a penny to the exposed prongs.” 

The dangerous “penny challenge” started making the rounds on TikTok and other platforms about a year ago and can potentially lead to electric shock as well as cause a fire.

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Amazon deleted reviews of Chinese president’s book on government’s orders

Didn’t like Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book? Keep your mouth shut.

That’s what China told Amazon, according to a new report, when the country pushed the bookseller to delete all comments and reviews related to “The Governance of China,” a compendium of Xi’s speeches and writings.

Amazon complied. It’s another example of a US company bending to Chinese pressure in order to keep doing business in the huge and growing economy.

The government edict was delivered two years ago, according to the Reuters report citing two people familiar with the matter, but had never before been disclosed.

Now, on Amazon sites accessed within China, there are no reviews or star ratings for the book.

The censorship demand was made after some reviewers gave the leader’s tome less-than-stellar marks, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

It was a negative review that prompted the wholesale ban on reviews and ratings on the book, according to a source. The ban was for the book’s Amazon listing in China.

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Amazon patents show new level of surveillance

Amazon has registered 17 new patents for biometric technology intended to help its doorbell cameras identify “suspicious” people by scent, skin texture, fingerprints, eyes, voice, and gait.

The tech giant has been developing its doorbell security camera system since 2018, when Amazon acquired the firm named Ring and, with it, the original technology. According to media reports, Jeff Bezos’ company is now preparing to enable the devices to identify “suspicious” people with the help of biometric technology, based on skin texture, gait, finger, voice, retina, iris, and even odor.

On top of that, if Amazon’s new patents are anything to go by, all Ring doorbell cameras in a given neighborhood would be interconnected, sharing data with each other and creating a composite image of “suspicious” individuals.

One of the patents for what is described in the media as a “neighborhood alert mode” would allow users in one household to send photos and videos of someone they deem ‘suspicious’ to their neighbors’ Ring cameras so that they, too, start recording and can assemble a “series of ‘storyboard’ images for activity taking place across the fields of view of multiple cameras.

Aside from the possible future interconnectivity among the Ring devices themselves, Amazon’s doorbell cameras, as it stands now, already exchange information with 1,963 police and 383 fire departments across the US, according to Business Insider. Authorities do not even need a warrant to access Ring footage.

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