Amazon released its latest lineup of connected hardware at a virtual event on Thursday, and also took the opportunity to address ongoing privacy concerns about its Alexa virtual assistant.
A new command, “Alexa, delete everything I ever said,” will wipe clean a person’s history of queries made to Alexa. Users can also turn on a new setting that will make sure Alexa deletes everything people say as they go.
The updated privacy features come after concerns were raised last year about Amazon’s practice of listening to and recording some anonymous queries to help improve Alexa’s performance. There was, however, an option for users to opt out of sharing their voice clips with Amazon.
“It’s a balancing act for Amazon between monetizing its golden customer base and heightened privacy issues as the regulatory spotlight on big tech gets brighter,” said Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.
If privacy-conscious consumers weren’t ready to put an Amazon speaker in their home, they’ll likely also opt out of the company’s biggest announcement. The "Ring Always Home Cam" is a $250 drone-like camera that can fly room to room remotely. The idea is to check on those nagging questions after leaving home, such as whether the stove wasn’t turned off or if a window was left open.
Jamie Siminoff, founder and chief inventor of Ring, said that they found some customers were purchasing multiple Ring cameras to leave around their home.
“Instead of simply encouraging customers to buy more cameras and set them up in more locations around the home, how could we solve this problem with one solution?” Siminoff wrote in a blog post. “We wanted to create one camera that could give users the flexibility of every viewpoint they want around the home, while delivering on our founding principles of privacy and security.”
Simonoff also addressed the inevitable privacy questions people will have about the new flying camera.
“The device rests in the base and the camera is physically blocked when docked. The camera will only start recording when the device leaves the base and starts flying via one of the preset paths. We even designed Always Home Cam to hum at a certain volume, so it’s clear the camera is in motion and is recording,” he said. “This is privacy you can hear.”
Amazon is even doubling down on its push to bring Alexa to kids. The company released its latest child-friendly smart speaker, the $60 Echo Dot Kids Edition, which comes in a tiger or panda design. Alexa upgrades now make it possible for the virtual assistant to distinguish whether an adult or a child is talking. If Alexa hears a child's voice, it will go into kid-friendly mode when answering questions.
The company defended its Echo Dot Kids Edition in a blog post last year after several senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the speakers violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Amazon said it launched the product line with collaboration from leading industry groups, followed best practices for ensuring verifiable parental consent and offered multiple ways for parents to delete their child's recordings and profile.