Amazon has rolled out a whole-building version of its Alexa AI voice assistant for landlords, billing ‘Alexa for Residential’ as extending smart-home functionality to renters – tenants’ consent apparently not required.
The e-commerce giant announced Alexa for Residential on Thursday, describing it as a feature “that makes having an Alexa-enabled home accessible for anyone, regardless of whether they rent or own their home.” Tenants can link up their own Amazon account, but if they don’t have one, no problem – they’ll be placed on the building’s system.
Landlords, Amazon explains, will have the option to provide “custom voice experiences for their residents,” which could easily translate to charging a higher rent for the ability to submit maintenance requests, reserve amenities like laundry or gym time, pay their rent, and so on using the AI device.
Residents living under the watchful eye of Alexa will also be able to “control their lights, thermostat, lock, blinds, and more with no setup required,” Amazon explains in its promotional materials, adding that those lucky enough to have their own Amazon account can also listen to their music playlists, call friends and family, and – of course – shop on Amazon.
The company reassured potential users for whom this sounds like a techno-dystopian nightmare that landlords who sign up for the building-wide service won’t be able to access data from individual tenants, and all voice recordings will be deleted on a daily basis.
Of course, Amazon has promised strict privacy controls before, only for it to emerge that third-party contractors could hear users having sex, ‘deleted’ recordings were actually still lurking on Amazon’s servers, and private recordings were being sent to strangers on the other side of the world. Alexa devices have also been hauled into court as evidence in criminal cases.
Even tenants whose relationship with their landlord is 100 percent friendly might not want them tracking their comings and goings, and a group of New York City tenants successfully sued their landlord last year to require the installation of normal “dumb” locks with physical keys after their building was fitted with a “smart” lock on the lobby that they argued was being used to track their movements.
While Amazon insists installing Alexa in apartment buildings will only “make your property more attractive to residents,” even some mainstream media outlets are starting to have second thoughts about shoehorning the inquisitive AI assistant into private homes and spaces. The Verge half-heartedly mentioned “science fiction shows warning us about this sort of thing” – it’s been a recurring trope since the days of Ray Bradbury, but has fully converged with reality in the Black Mirror era.
However, Amazon cited a survey from the National Apartment Association that claimed 84 percent of apartment renters actually want smart devices in their home – and 61 percent want them so much they’d pay for them.
Amazon already has existing agreements with vacation properties via RedAwning.com and with hotels via Alexa for Hospitality. Another startup has placed the devices in senior living centers. Soon, it will be difficult to get away from the devices. Alexa for Residential is being debuted by a handful of companies in Annapolis, Maryland; Denver, Colorado; and parts of Florida.
Alexa, as some might recall, once had a funny habit of shutting off when users asked it if it was working with the CIA (which paid Amazon $600 million to build a ‘secure’ cloud for the entire US intelligence apparatus). But that glitch has been worked out, and everything’s working fine now.
On the bright side, if the walls start talking to you, it no longer means you’re crazy.
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