Hell no, Halo

Hell no, Halo

Amazon has announced its new Halo wearable. Strap it on your wrist and it’ll track your activity, body fat, sleep data – and your tone of voice.

The rest of these things are pretty standard for a wearable: Track your steps, log your exercise, see how much restful sleep you get. Fitbit led the way on this; Apple and Google are two other big players.

Tone tracking is the new ‘killer’ feature on the Halo. The device has two microphones built in, letting you hit a button to start recording and analysis. And they’ll charge you $3.99/month after the first 6 months for the “privilege.”

Amazon says on their Halo Privacy page that “We only move data when absolutely necessary, and we process it as close to the source as possible. For example, Tone speech samples are processed right on your phone and then automatically deleted—they never go to the cloud, and no one ever hears them.”

Despite that somewhat reassuring language, you have to dig deeper into Amazon’s documentation to understand what’s really happening with Tone data. The company says in a whitepaper elsewhere that “Tone analysis results are stored in the secure Amazon cloud so that customers can continue to access their results even if they get a new smartphone. Tone analysis is essentially a summary of the Positivity and Energy of a given phrase.”

Hearing the danger

The risks of normalizing tone analysis might not seem apparent at first: taken at face value, the Halo won’t store your recordings anywhere but your device or phone, and the company will not “apply machine learning to the Tone analyses to optimize our Tone algorithm.”

The problem becomes more apparent when we consider that Amazon doesn’t have altruistic motives here. It exists to make Jeff Bezos and its shareholders more money, which it does by selling products to you and selling you to advertisers.

Amazon wants to know everything about you and what makes you tick: that’s how they figure out what Prime shows you might want to watch and what you’re more likely to buy when you’re shopping on the couch in a haze of COVID boredom.

Sentiment analysis is a growing field using both voice recognition technologies and machine learning algorithms to figure out how a person is feeling when they say something. Building on text-based sentiment analysis techniques by using voice-to-text, a new generation of companies are using the tone of your voice to figure out how you’re feeling. Amazon’s digging right into this.

Just as we’ve all gotten used to the cell phone tracking devices in our pockets, Amazon and the rest of Big Tech also hope we’ll adapt to further invasive technologies.