Pando

Amazon just dropped encryption and launched a listening device called Amazon Tap. Really.

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on March 4, 2016

From The Security Desk

Amazon is a tough company to hate, and a tough company to love.

Far more than any useless photo filter or swipy dating app, Amazon has made the world a better place. Never mind AWS, or Prime, or the ease with which you can now obtain obscure office supplies. Just the ability to order any book, in electronic or print, and have it delivered in 24 hours or less has changed the way we access information in a way that’s comparable with the impact printing press. And, no, that’s not hyperbole.

More impressively, they’ve done all of this while setting up publishing companies to make more money, not less, if they play the game correctly. Publishers reading this have just spat coffee from their cat mugs, but I’m right. There’s no other example of an Internet giant creating a market to download a product that gives producers so much control over how that product is priced, and how it is made available. You can say what you like about their crappy attempts to create rival imprints, or to push back against the agency model, but ask yourself if you’d rather be a TV network in a world of Netflix or a record label post-Spotify.  

If revolutionizing publishing were all Amazon had done, I would likely be a “fanboy” of the kind you often see glomming on to Apple or Google or whatever the hell else. Likewise, if all Jeff Bezos had done was founding Amazon and make the Washington Post viable again, I’d be the first to slap his logo on my laptop.

But of course we all know the dark side of Amazon: The workers treated like dogshit, and Bezos’ reputation as a tyrant. Then there are the countless thousands of businesses that have been destroyed by Amazon’s dominance. A function of the beloved free market, for sure, but an icky one.

And now Amazon has given us another reason to fear and loathe it, discreetly announcing that it is removing encryption protection from its Fire devices. The latest version of its operating system removes any protection that prevented the government or anyone else accessing the data stored on your device. Right at the same time as Apple, by comparison, is waging a very public battle with the FBI over a terrorist’s iPhone.

The implications are serious enough if all Apple built were media players and ereaders. But Amazon also just pushed out the latest version of its Echo home butler device. The Echo sits in your living room or bedroom, listening for commands and then playing music, providing weather forecasts or even -- is it me or did it just get chilly in here? -- ordering you an Uber.

Yes, the same company that just dumped encryption from its operating system wants us to voluntary install a networked listening device in our homes, always listening, always processing and always uploading our verbal commands to the cloud. If the government wanted that level of electronic surveillance in your house -- through a phone tap or a bug -- they’d need to prove probable cause and get a warrant. Amazon charges you $179.99 for the privilege. (The same Amazon, by the way, that has a $600m contract to build cloud data “solutions” for the CIA.)

The Echo and its capabilities should terrify us all. There shouldn’t be a man, woman or child on earth who isn’t freaked out by the fact a company that hates encryption and that is paid by the CIA has produced an always-on listening device for your home. The fact that the device is connected directly to Uber’s API -- a company that we all know threatened to use data to track and harass its critics -- should have been the final straw,

But no. With over 33,000 user reviews, the Amazon Echo has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon. Everyone LOVES the damn thing. Can’t get enough of it. Bring on the surveillance! Encryption be damned!

And now, as if that weren’t chilling enough, Amazon has clearly decided to troll us. Hmmm.. what shall we call the latest version of the device we’re putting in your homes to monitor your conversation in a way that would break wire tapping laws if the government did it?

I know!

The Amazon Tap! I mean, shit. Why not just call it the Amazon Bug and be done with it.