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A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Amazon’s robot Astro is a privacy nightmare according to leaked documents

Astro looks at you with his big circular eyes. Blink, wink, open and close them a little, and makes little noises in the meantime. Remember the endearing ‘WALL-E’ from the Pixar movie, but be careful, because appearances can be deceiving.

It is at least what some leaked documents reveal in which a hidden face is shown: Astro, they say, is designed to follow the behavior of its users. Those who have worked on its development affirm that its recognition system is yet another threat to our privacy.

“Astro will jump down the stairs if he gets the chance”

When you buy an Astro and spend the $ 999.99 (or $ 1,449 after the initial promotion) and turn it on for the first time, you are asked to “register” your face and voiceas well as the faces and voices of those who inhabit the home in which it will function: so Astro can learn who is supposed to be there.


Astro’s Intelligent Movement algorithms build a depth map of the environment in which this robot moves. Source: Amazon.

That document, which identifies Astro by her codename, ‘Vesta’, reveals how the ‘Sentry’ mode makes the robot alert in case it does not recognize someone who is at home or detects strange noises.

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However, developers who worked on the development of Astro indicated in that document that “Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw himself down the stairs if given the opportunity.. People detection is unreliable at best, making the home security proposition laughable. “

That is not the only problem for a robot that according to these sources “has an absurd cost”. The mast of the periscope camera has been broken in several devices, they claimed, and there is no way to send the robot to Amazon when that happens. For those developers Astro is even “potentially dangerous for someone who relies on it for accessibility features.”

Another source noted that Astro “it’s a privacy nightmare which is a denunciation of our society and how we sacrifice privacy for convenience with devices like Vesta. “

Facial recognition It is according to that erratic document, something that is worrying for a device designed to follow people and determine whether or not they are strange in the house.

Another element of concern according to these data is that of the continuous monitoring of the activity of its owners and their behavior.

Amazon claims privacy is the absolute focus

The goal is to get Astro to behave autonomously and intelligently, but for this once again these developers they pointed to the amount of data the robot collects to learn to interact more efficiently with your users.

At Amazon they ensure that all this data collection is done with privacy as the focus. “The visual identities of the registered household members,” they explain on their blog, “are safely stored on the device locally, and both Astro and Echo Show use local processing to recognize those registered customers. “

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With the maps that Astro creates when touring the house things are somewhat different: although the navigation data is processed locally, when Astro creates the map after the exploration sent to the cloud for storage and then display it in the Astro mobile app.

However, they assure in Amazon, the data of that map they are encrypted with 256-bit keys. Astro’s specific privacy information reveals how and when information is transferred, and in essence the behavior is the one we could already have on Echo family speakers.