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This week Amazon announced a surprise product that will be available soon. Echo is an always-on digital assistant that, upon hearing its command word, will respond to questions, take actions such as adding things to task lists and, oh yeah, it’s a speaker, so it can also play music on command.

Watching the announcement, along with the video commercial that Amazon has put together, I almost thought I was being punked. I kept checking to see if the story was actually coming from The Onion or some other fake news site.

But no, Amazon Echo is a real product and is, in many ways, a very cool piece of technology. Unlike assistants like Siri or Ask Google, Echo is meant for the home, as it’s a speaker that’s plugged into an outlet. But the device is also constantly connected to Amazon and listening for requests from its user. By default, Echo responds to the code word Alexa (so a user would say, “Alexa, what’s the weather in Paris now”), but it appears that this can be customized. It will also play music from a variety of streaming sources and, since its Bluetooth-enabled, can also play music from your devices.

The geek side of me is pretty impressed by some of these capabilities. I want to pick one up, change the code word to “Computer”, figure out a way to make the voice sound like Majel Barrett, get Echo to always refer to me as Captain, and then walk around asking it questions while doing my best William Shatner impersonation.

But the privacy obsessed part of me is pretty worried about having a device that is potentially always listening to conversations in my house. As a Prime user, Amazon already knows what I buy, what books I read, and what movies I watch. Do I want to worry about it listening to my conversations?

I can see it already. My wife and I are sitting in the kitchen, talking about how we need a new microwave. And then the next thing I know, Amazon is suggesting all kinds of great deals on microwaves. Also, if you’re a real tinfoil hat conspiracy believer, you’d have to think that law enforcement and intelligence would be interested in tapping into Echo’s microphones.

Still, this is probably the most interesting thing that Amazon has released in a while. And at $199 or just $99 for Prime users, you have to think more than a few people will be interested in giving it try.

Computer, I mean, Alexa, what’s the coolest and weirdest new product from Amazon? I think the answer would have to be Echo.

For more on privacy and security, read more research reports on Aberdeen’s IT Security practice page.


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