Amazon Shuts Down “SMART Home”

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Amazon shut down a Microsoft Site Reliability Engineer’s SMART home for a week because a delivery driver thought his automatic doorbell was racist. Then, a guy who reported his story on YouTube got his Amazon Affiliate account deleted. 6 Clips.

Amazon Shuts Down “SMART Home”

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1984-BigBrother-BookComeToLife

1984 is here. This is the primary reason that I don’t have any Alexa or Google Play, or any of these automated devices in my home. I do have a home automation system, but is not operated on the cloud, and this is scary. Essentially, Amazon has shut somebody out of their home—for a week! (01)

Amazon accused one of its customers of racism and subsequently locked them out of their account, which shut down their smart home. This was evidently reported by a driver, and Amazon did no review whatsoever and just locked the account. I’ll link to the article in the description. You can read the whole thing for yourself, and you should. (02) (03)

Obviously, there are a host of issues with Amazon doing this. I’m sure they’ll put some protocol in place that this “won’t happen again”. This is all the more reason if you have cameras or a SMART home. You should even look into doing your own server, but those things should run locally and record locally so that you are in control of them at all times. (04)

I mean, first of all, this person does not indicate their skin colour nor the skin colour of the driver. OK, well, this person’s black. I think… I can’t totally tell. He’s an engineer at Microsoft by the way. I think I can’t tell. It doesn’t matter, but the point I was saying is like, well, I don’t know what colour the driver was and what necessarily possible slurs they could have thought this meant, but this is wild.

Today, I would like to go over reason number 80 million that you should not be having stuff in your house, connect to Amazon servers for things like critical infrastructure, whether it is your camera systems, your doorbell, or any part of your home. (05)

This comes from Mr. Brandon Jackson. (06)

It says, “on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, I finally regained access to my Amazon account after an unexpected and unwarranted lockout that lasted about a week from Thursday, May 25. This wasn’t just a simple inconvenience. I have a SMART home…”

“SMART” home.

“… and my primary means of interfacing with all the devices and automations is through Amazon Echo devices via Alexa. This incident left me with a house full of unresponsive devices, a silent Alexa, and a lot of questions.

The sequence of events that led to this digital exile began innocuously enough. A package was delivered to my house on Wednesday, May 24, and everything seemed fine. The following day, however, I found that my Echo Show had signed out, and I was unable to interact with my smart home devices.

I swiftly checked my other accounts (social media, streaming apps, etc.) to ensure I hadn’t been compromised. All seemed normal, with no flood of notifications from Microsoft Authenticator that would indicate an attempted breach. Puzzled, I followed the advice of the Amazon app and dialled the customer service number it provided. That’s when things began to take a surreal turn.

The representative told me I should have received an email, which I indeed found in my inbox. It was from an executive at Amazon. As I dialled the number provided in the email, I half-wondered if Amazon was experiencing some issues and I was unwittingly falling into a scam.”

You don’t expect trillion dollar companies to email you and then have them say, call me back, bro, so I completely understand what he’s coming from.

“When I connected with the executive, they asked if I knew why my account had been locked. When I answered I was unsure, their tone turned somewhat accusatory. I was told that the driver who had delivered my package reported receiving racist remarks from my “Ring doorbell” (it’s actually a Eufy, but I’ll let it slide).

Here’s where things got even more baffling. First, I have multiple cameras recording everything that happens on my property. If the driver’s claims were accurate, I could easily verify them with video footage. Second, most delivery drivers in my area share the same race as me and my family. It seemed highly unlikely that we would make such remarks. Finally, when I asked what time the alleged incident occurred, I realized it was practically impossible for anyone in my house to have made those comments, as nobody was home around that time approximately 6:05p.m..

I reviewed the footage and confirmed that no such comments had been made. Instead, the Eufy doorbell had issued an automated response: “Excuse me, can I help you?” The driver, who was walking away and wearing headphones, must have misinterpreted the message. Nevertheless, by the following day, my Amazon account was locked, and all my Echo devices were logged out.

Let me be clear: I fully support Amazon taking measures to ensure the safety of their drivers. However, I question why my entire smart home system had to be rendered unusable during their internal investigation.

It seems more sensible to impose a temporary delivery restriction or purchasing ban on my account. Submitting video evidence from multiple angles right after my initial call with the executive appeared to have little impact on their decision to disable my account.

This incident has led me to question my relationship with Amazon. After nearly a decade of loyalty, I’ve been given a harsh reminder that a misunderstanding can lead to such drastic measures. It seems more reasonable to handle such issues in a more compartmentalized way, rather than a blanket shutdown of all services.(07)

“Alexa, good morning.” … “Turning on your shower.”

From the coffee maker to the front porch, the floors, to the counters.

“You’ve got four items on your shopping list.”

And the mesh Wi-Fi connecting at all.

Amazon is everywhere in the home, and in this SMART home lab we visited in Seattle.

In this lab alone, we have more than 45 devices. There is a smart fridge that is connected to Alexa. We have our thermostat, our ring doorbell, and cameras. Vacuum, the indoor quality monitor, and the TV.

And with its recent offer to buy Rumba Smart Vacuum Maker, iRobot for 1.7 billion, Amazon’s showing no signs of stopping. Although the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing whether the deal would violate antitrust law before allowing the takeover.

At this point, with its acquisition of iRobot, with its presence, and streaming, with its ring cameras, with its echo, smart speaker, Amazon can basically do everything, but smell what you’re having for dinner.

“Amazon takes its responsibility to customers and privacy incredibly seriously, and if we were to acquire iRobot or any other company, that would not change.”

Leila Rouhi VP, Trust and Privacy, Amazon

“This incident left me without a house, with a house full of unresponsive devices, a silent Alexa, and a lot of questions.”

On the Neighbours App, users can voluntarily post or provide video to law enforcement for active investigations, but Amazon has also been criticized for sharing ring video doorbell footage with law enforcement without user consent.

There’s legal process, and so our legal process happens to our legal team. We understand the absolutely sensitive nature of our videos, and we do our utmost to ensure that we are being incredibly thoughtful in how we respond to legal requests and protecting the customer’s interest.

Leila Rouhi VP, Trust and Privacy, Amazon

And then there’s Amazon Sidewalk, a shared network, allowing devices to connect to each other. So it’s always on—beyond the reach of home Wi-Fi, and even if your internet goes out.

It can use just a little bit of bandwidth from customers that have opted in to the Sidewalk network, and so for example, if you have ring spot lighting, you typically have to be within Bluetooth range for the likes to be able to turn on and off using your app, with something like Sidewalk, it can go up to a mile in distance.

Leila Rouhi VP, Trust and Privacy, Amazon

And soon, Alexa, Siri, Google, and more, may play better together too. An alliance of different device makers, including Amazon, Apple and Google, is developing a protocol called the Matter Standard that would allow devices to work across platforms instead of only answering to one voice assistant.

We believe that the home will always be a heterogeneous environment. Meaning you will have many different brands, many different devices, from many different companies in your home. (08)

Marja Koopmans, Director, Smart Home, Amazon

But for a company to have the ability to shut down your product that you bought because you “allegedly..”, and it has things to do with home security. “Used it in such a way.” Mind blowing.

According to the customer, he was locked out of all of his smart devices without notice for a week pending investigation, and this is after they misheard a generic greeting from his Eufy doorbell—oh good, Eufy. No one was home at the time of the incident, which Rossmann confirmed after being provided the customer’s security footage. (09)

Amazon later acknowledged this incident and said it was “looking at ways to prevent a similar situation from happening again”. So this wasn’t even something that took place over an Amazon-owned, like a ring doorbell. This is something that just an Amazon driver complained about, and they basically went, okay, your customer history, all your stuff, I guess, by serial number is shut down. It’s down. It’s out. It’s gone. Oh no, I guess it would just be by account. Yeah, it would be by account login.

Have you ever had an issue with a postal worker? A UPS delivery person, a FedEx delivery person before—in your life? Can you imagine if that issue that you had with the delivery person resulted in items inside of your home that you bought and paid for no longer functioning and working?

This is why I think it is paramount that the infrastructure in your home be as sovereign as possible. Do not have your light switches or your radios or anything else in your home connecting to other people’s servers to get permission to turn on. That is a mess waiting to happen, because again, all it takes is an Amazon delivery driver who’s having a bad day to literally ruin your home. An unfounded accusation of racism means that infrastructure inside your home can stop working. This is the problem when you give too much control to one company, and particularly when that control that you’re giving is your devices inside of your home connecting to their servers. You could literally be in a situation where somebody making an unfounded, untrue, demonstrably proven untrue accusation of racism against you causes your internal home infrastructure to stop working. That’s fucking insane.

I completely understand and respect that the target demographic of this channel, the people that tend to show up in my comment section and show up to meetups are not the people who need to hear this public service announcement. You guys are ripping the computers out of as many things as possible that do not need a computer, because you don’t want to live in a world where the infrastructure in your house stops working because some douchebag at Amazon decided to listen to the unverified claims of someone who misheard a ring doorbell.

However, there are many other people out there that actually believe it’s a good idea to have the infrastructure in their house connect to somebody else’s servers sending those other people information, making their house completely dependent on some douchebag that works at Amazon for the ability of their devices at home to work that doesn’t even have the courtesy to apologize when proven that they were wrong for turning off what you bought and paid for.

Don’t have this stuff inside your house. You don’t need a SMART home. You don’t, like, am I allowed to say that? You don’t need a home that connects other people’s servers. You would find without it, you don’t need it now. If you want a light to turn on, turn the fucking switch.

Essentially, you’re open first of all to hacking and having that kind of stuff when you’re connecting all that to the web, but, like, what’s wild is because of the doorbell camera, like, this, you see, I hope this customer sues Amazon because in that information discovery phase there would be so much revealed about surveillance mechanisms linked to, “smartphone” tech. The question is, yeah, so Amazon disabled it and either reviewed the footage which they shouldn’t have any access to, right? They shouldn’t be logging into people’s houses and just kind of looking for racists.

A head of Amazon’s annual smart home event, we talked to the VP of Privacy to find out what really happens to all the data collected by Amazon’s devices and sat down with the head of SMART home to hear the strategy behind Amazon’s race to dominate the internet of things.

If you asked me three or four years ago what the adoption rate was, it was hovering around about 12%. During the pandemic, we saw that rocket to almost half of American households that have a Wi-Fi network at home have at least one smart home device.

Adam Wright, Research Manager, Smart Home Devices, IDC

Adam Wright with smart home research at DataFirm IDC says his home is filled with 185 Alexa-enabled devices.

In 2018, Amazon purchased Video Doorbell Maker Ring for a billion dollars, just three months after acquiring home security company Blink for 90 million. A year later it bought eero for 97 million, a mesh Wi-Fi system that can connect it all.

Now, Amazon has offered 1.7 billion to acquire iRobot with its room mapping Roombas, a deal that analysts say isn’t really about the sale of the vacuums themselves.

It’s very difficult to make a lot of margins on the hardware and the device itself, but they have just acquired a massive data set which can help them in the aggregate, better understand the floor plans and the mapping of people’s homes.

Adam Wright, Research Manager, Smart Home Devices, IDC

20 different privacy and labor groups, including Sarah Miller’s American Economic Liberties Project, have sent a letter to the FTC asking it to block the deal, citing concerns about privacy, and Amazon’s growing dominance of the smart home market. The FTC is requesting more information from both Amazon and iRobot before making a decision.

It has a camera in the front, which is a little bit unsettling. It can tell what you already have in your house. Who’s in your household? What types of things might you want to access right? They can target advertising on the Amazon platform in that way.

Sarah Miller, Executive Director and Founder, American Economic Liberties Project

In response to privacy concerns raised by the pending deal, iRobot CEO told CNBC in a statement, “We know that customers welcome us into their homes because they trust that our products will help them do more and that we will respect their information. We take that trust seriously. Once we are required by Amazon, our commitment to customer data and privacy will remain.”

Privacy and security are a huge area of investment for us and will continue to be.

Leila Rouhi VP, Trust and Privacy, Amazon

Amazon allegedly retaliates against critical news coverage. Amazon shuts down SMART home after delivery driver mishears racism from a doorbell. The week after his reporting, Rossmann received an email from Amazon saying that his application to the Amazon Associates program did not qualify and that his temporarily approved account has been rejected.

Two weeks ago, I went over the fact that Amazon accused a customer of racism because the delivery driver claims that he heard something racist from a robotic doorbell. That was saying, “Excuse me, how can I help you?” I saw all the proof of this and I knew that it was a real story. On this channel, I often go over a concept called ‘right to repair’. Where we talk about how many companies are making devices less fixable over time, requiring that you either buy new ones or rely on the manufacturer for service, and as time has gone on, this channel has evolved to discussing every single area of technology in society where you have less freedom and sovereignty as more companies ask you to put more control in their hands.

So having a system in your house that can be turned off by Amazon if an employee of the company claims that your doorbell said something racist to them is of interest to myself and my audience who I tend to suggest you not install these types of restrictive products into their homes. Within days of doing this video, Amazon appeared on a major mainstream news outlet and said that this was a case and they are working with the customer. This is sadly a real story.

And it’s very interesting what I just got in my email inbox today because after about seven and a half years or so in the Amazon affiliate program, I got an email cancelling myself.

“Your Application does not qualify for the Amazon Associates Program.”

Why? The violations include the following:

While reviewing your account, we noticed traffic coming to Amazon from other sites or social media handles that are not currently included in your Associates account.

But the one that I thought was more interesting was the second one:

We have found that the purchase is resulting from special links on your site or in violation of the operating agreement. As they have been for personal use or made by your friends, relatives, employees, contractors, or business relations, please do refer to our operating agreement for more details.”

So the first thing to go over here is that I’ve had this account open since approximately 2016. The way this works is that if people click the links that are in my video descriptions and they actually buy something, I earn a kickback for it.

Now, I just find this really strange that I’ve had the same links and the same videos in the same manner for about seven years, and a week after I do this video, they’re telling me that I’m having my employees and my friends and my family members using my account against the terms of service? They have provided no evidence for these claims and I wouldn’t expect them to provide that evidence because I believe they have none.

Imagine that. To be clear here, what they’re accusing me of is me calling my dad and saying, “Hi, dad, I need you to buy a bunch of soldering equipment using this link so that I get a kickback from it.” This account makes me a few hundred dollars a month. The amount of money that they’re claiming that I’m breaking the TOS and risking getting my account deleted to scam them out of is inconsequential at this point in time, and to be clear, I’m like, I’m not trying to brag. I’m just saying, I have a YouTube channel with 1.8 million subscribers. I have a full-time job working for a billionaire. I have a MacBook repair company with six employees. Like, do you honestly in your heart of hearts? And I know there are many people out there that hate me, that cannot stand me, that think I’m the biggest pile of garbage. I get that. Do you honestly believe that I’m going out of my way to ask a bunch of people to buy stuff so that I can get 2-4% commissions off of their purchases of soldering equipment that they don’t actually need so that I can earn a few hundred dollars in Amazon affiliate revenue?

This is part of the problem that I’m talking about. You have a company that cancelled the customer’s account because a delivery person thought a doorbell said something racist, and then the person that points out that this happens, 10 days after it happens, seven days after it hits national news, has the account that they’ve had open for seven years disabled for claims of abuse.

I just want to be 100% clear. I do not believe that I have a right to having an affiliate account on Amazon. I am not entitled to having an affiliate account on Amazon. I have fired many of my own customers, and here is the way I think this should be done:

Dear Louis Rossmann, our affiliate program is designed to direct positive attention to Amazon. The way you have represented the company and your opinions on how we do business are antithetical to the way we believe we represent ourselves in the world. As a result of these disagreements, we are no longer going to have you as an affiliate. Signed Amazon.

See, this would at least be honest. But sending me an email 10 days after that video saying that I am having my friends, relatives and employees misuse my affiliate program, by asking them to buy things they don’t need. So I could earn one or 200. What the? Do any of you believe that? Dare I say it and I could be jumping to conclusions here. I don’t even believe that the people watching this video that hate my guts believe this.

You cancelled somebody’s account for no good reason. You made the news for it and your response to it is to cancel somebody else’s account for no good reason.

What’s more plausible that Louis Rossmann has been getting his employees to buy soldering tools en-masse for hundreds of dollars in kickbacks or that a petty middle manager at Amazon revoked the affiliate account of an outspoken critic with 1.8 million subscribers?

I’ll also say having had our own Amazon affiliate program scare in the past that the way that Amazon chooses to enforce the rules and regulations of that program are scatter shot at best, and I wouldn’t put it past them to target a particular creator with some kind of nonsense made up reason for ejecting them from the program. I don’t know if you guys remember the drama that we went through?

We only narrowly got our account reinstated and the reason that we were that we were kicked out allegedly was because we said that “using our affiliate code helped support us.”

That apparently violated their policy because it provided something in kind for using our affiliate program. What, gratitude? And they’re like, yeah, and I’m sitting here going basically every Twitch streamer has a banner under their channel that’s like support me by buying a sh** on Amazon using my account. So what’s with that? And it was only after we showed them our substantial daily subscriber growth that they reconsidered our case, and honestly, it was hard even getting to that point where we could talk to a real human being about the appeal. So yeah, based on my experience, I could see them having a very uneven approach to applying their seemingly completely opaque set of rules. Like how was I supposed to know that based on how everyone else was using it?

To be clear, we’ve had a pretty smooth relationship with Amazon over, I don’t know, the last while. Yeah, I just see the business team say that like they’re doing good or something. That’s all I actually know about these days, and it’s like it’s all affiliate based like before I think, or have they sponsored some stuff they might have sponsored a video or two actually now that I think about it. So things have been pretty smooth for us, but it wasn’t always like that, and with the way that they just treat the affiliate program, not as a discount, but as like a marketing exercise, I could absolutely see them being like, this isn’t worth it. Forget it. Just cut it off. Provide some BS reason. It doesn’t matter. Yeah, that’s that’s not cool.

You want to go down a rabbit hole? I mean, this is like, you know, try to get cash from a bank. I had to pay somebody to do an epoxy for my garage and they looked at me sideways because I had to pull out $6,500.

$6,500, not $65,000. Like, “Oh, what’s this for?” They always ask you what it’s for. You know what you tell them? Stick it up your nose. That’s what it’s for. Well, no, they’ll probably think that’s, you know…”Blow it out your rear—it’s none of their business with the money’s for!” They always ask too. “It’s none your business, you weirdo, give me my money!”

This is where you’re going with like digital currency, you know, social credit score. Oh, you’re so you did a you you sent a tweet that we deemed racist. Your entire house is now shut down. Your banks are shut down. This stuff is real and it’s coming. This is just the beginning.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” ― George Orwell, 1984

Posts tagged: Internet of Things

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Penny (PennyButler.com)
Penny (PennyButler.com)

Truth-seeker, ever-questioning, ever-learning, ever-researching, ever delving further and deeper, ever trying to 'figure it out'. This site is a legacy of sorts, a place to collect thoughts, notes, book summaries, & random points of interests.