Amazon's new hardware alarms privacy skeptics, but their concerns likely won't change the trajectory of adoption

  • Amazon announced a series of security-centric devices at its annual hardware event.
  • Though several of the devices were met with skepticism over privacy,  it won't change the trajectory of adoption.
  • Insider Intelligence publishes hundreds of insights, charts, and forecasts on the Connectivity & Tech industry with the Connectivity & Tech Briefing. You can learn more about subscribing here.

Amazon held its annual fall hardware event last week, and one of the central themes was smart home security. For instance, Amazon unveiled the Ring Always Home Cam, a $250 autonomous drone camera that flies around a user's home if their Ring security system is triggered.

It also announced a $200 Ring-branded Car Cam that monitors for attempted vehicle break-ins and notifies the user of any unusual behavior. To address concerns over the transfer of users' data, Amazon said that it would soon give Ring users the option to enable end-to-end encryption for video. 

Several of Amazon's announcements were met with skepticism regarding their potential to compromise user privacy. As both Business Insider and The Verge noted, Amazon's hardware announcements were met with fierce backlash online. For instance, Box CEO Aaron Levie wrote on Twitter, "If 2020 wasn't already dystopian enough for you, Amazon just announced an indoor flying drone camera."

Similarly, the privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch derided the drone as "arguably Amazon's most chilling surveillance product yet." Prominent tech journalist Walt Mossberg added, "In a country with no laws regulating digital privacy, anyone who buys this from a company with a history of privacy problems is insane." 

Ring is no stranger to scrutiny over its handling of user privacy. In late 2019, for instance, hackers uploaded a series of videos in which they berated and threatened Ring users in their homes. The footage included verbal attacks on children, racist comments, and threats of violence.

Ring has also drawn scrutiny for its relationship with law enforcement—Ring enables its users to share "concerning" footage captured on the video doorbells with police departments. Several critics including the ACLU and Electronic Frontiers Foundation believe this system risks reinforcing systemic racism by magnifying the consequences of hasty judgments regarding the "criminality" of an individual's appearance.

However, we don't think that these concerns will change the consumer adoption trajectory for Amazon smart home products. More than 1 in 4 consumers across six major markets—the US, France, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Japan—refuse to buy a smart device out of security concerns, according to a joint 2019 survey from Consumers International and the Internet Society.

Amazon likely isn't targeting this consumer group with the Ring updates, however, knowing that their concerns over smart home privacy will not easily be addressed with new products or privacy features. Instead, as with the car device, Amazon is likely attempting to get consumers who are already in the smart home ecosystem to expand into new domains. For instance, of US smart speaker owners, 44% only had one device, according to a June 2019 survey conducted by Business Insider Intelligence and Attest.

Amazon is pursuing a vision in which customers can access Alexa from everywhere, and that will entail rapidly expanding the number of smart devices within a single users' environment, as can be accomplished through the products announced last week.

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