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Why you shouldn't buy the Amazon Fire phone

Mike Elgan | June 24, 2014
It's the most effective device ever sold for harvesting the personal data from its owner

Take a picture of a book, a novel for instance, and you also upload audio. Let's say the audio frequently picks up TV cooking shows that you might be watching in the background. Amazon could start serving you ads for cooking products, even though you never explicitly used the Fire phone for a purpose related to cooking or cooking products.

Use Firefly at home -- Amazon can compare the GPS data with the shipping address they have on file -- and they can determine by the times of day that you're likely to either work from home or you don't work.

The GPS can tell them whether you're at Target or at Tiffany's.

It's not hard to see how this data could help Amazon know you better, and in fact construct a highly accurate and detailed profile about you and your life, your family, your activities and your interests.

Firefly takes data harvesting to a whole new, unprecedented level. It can harvest user data totally unrelated to the feature you think you're using.

Note that Amazon does allow you to manually delete any image or sound recording uploaded through Firefly.

Dynamic perspective

The Amazon Fire phone's dynamic perspective feature is a 3D-like illusion that makes it appear that objects on the screen have depth. Amazon achieves this illusion by knowing where your eyes and head are, then showing you what you would see if the objects were 3D.

The unique hardware that enables this illusion is four low-power cameras and four LEDs. It works even when the user is covering two of the cameras.

The technology behind dynamic perspective is pretty amazing. But for the purposes of this column, suffice it to say that the phone knows when your face is looking at the screen and framed within the front-facing camera's range.

If Amazon wanted to construct the greatest face-recognition profile of your face ever assembled, the Fire phone would be the ideal tool for doing that. Whenever you're using dynamic perspective to use the 3D-like menus or playing a 3D-like game, the phone knows exactly where your face is during these activities. It could be easy to instruct the phone to snap a picture of your face every time. These images could then be combined to result in a super-reliable profile on you that could recognize your face every time some other camera encountered it.

Let me be clear: I'm not accusing Amazon of taking pictures of your face. If I had to guess, I would guess they are not doing this.

But there are three things that concern me about all this. The first is that, to the best of my knowledge, Amazon hasn't publicly promised that they do not and will never photograph users' faces in this way.

 

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