Since lockdown began, the prospect of drone delivery from Amazon has gone from a wacky pie-in-the-sky idea to a genius innovation. What better way to offer contactless delivery to the masses during a pandemic than by utilising an army of flying robots to do the deed? It’s amazing how quickly perceptions can change. Amazon wouldn’t be “taking over the world” – it’d be saving it.
As with all futuristic out-of-the-box ideas, however, some land better than others.
Take Key by Amazon, for instance. Billed as a smart solution for your life, it is already readily available in the US and purportedly “gives you the freedom to enjoy keyless smart access and receive Amazon packages delivered inside your garage, home and car.”
That’s a lot of control to offer an already omniscient establishment. Access to your home AND car? All in the name of having parcels delivered “safely”.
As you’ll know by now, I love technology. I embrace innovation and am a proud early adopter of many gadgets and gizmos in a quest to make my home and office as “smart” as possible. I have a Nest Hello video doorbell, Philips Hue lighting, voice-activated appliances – the lot. But affording Amazon physical access inside my home feels like a step too far, even for me.
It’s one thing to think that the bods at Head Office might be listening in on my private conversations, or storing video files from my front porch, but it’s another thing entirely to know that a stranger will enter my home. Yes, there will be so-called safety measures in place to prevent abuse of the system but it’s not enough to convince me to take the plunge. Not yet, anyway…
Still, I’m curious as to how this addition to Amazon’s suite of smart products will work in the real world. Does it offer tangible benefits that couldn’t be achieved by other methods (say, a parcel box outside your home) or is it – as I suspect – taking things way too far in the name of convenience? Let’s find out…
In terms of set-up, two bits of kit are required – a smart lock and a “Cloud Cam” which is able to see your package being delivered. You must also be a member of Amazon Prime.
When a delivery arrives, a video recording is sent to your smartphone along with notifications detailing each step of the process (i.e. when your door is unlocked). If the delivery driver is unable to open your door for whatever reason, they’ll leave an explanation in note form on the app for you.
An article on Digital Trends elaborates:
On delivery day, you’ll receive a notification in the morning with a 4-hour window for when the driver will arrive at your home. Right before the driver arrives, you will receive a notification and watch the delivery happening live if you want (or later, as it’s stored for 24 hours). The driver will knock first and then request to unlock your door with their handheld scanner. Amazon then verifies that the package belongs to the address and the driver is near the door, turns on Amazon Cloud Cam, and unlocks your door. The driver doesn’t get any codes to open the door. The delivery person then leaves the package just inside the house, closes the door, then leaves. The smart lock automatically locks once the delivery person has closed the door and left.
If required, you can utilise Alexa to lock or unlock your door for you, which can also be controlled remotely through the Alexa app.
The latter element – locking and unlocking doors remotely via Alexa – would surely be beneficial within the holiday rentals industry. Many Airbnb properties, for example, utilise key safes with numerical codes to negate the need for an in-person handover. The combination of a video doorbell and a smart lock could provide peace of mind for the property owner, without prompting any concerns around privacy.
I know from experience that worrying about whether you locked the doors before embarking on a holiday is a surefire way to add unnecessary stress to proceedings. It’s the modern-day equivalent of leaving the gas hob on… No matter how many times you checked, those niggling doubts can still creep in. The prospect of silencing any doubts with a quick check of an app does sound appealing. If the app can be trusted, that is.
One major concern I – and I expect many others - will have is hacking. As clever and cautious as the product development team at Amazon can be, there will always be people out there who revel in disruption. At any given moment, there are sure to be scores of tech whizzes working to uncover chinks in the armour and expose any shortcomings. Technology and hackers go hand-in-hand, and it will take a monumental effort from Amazon – and all affiliated brands - to remain one step ahead.
This short YouTube video about Deauth Attacks demonstrates just how easy it is to knock wi-fi connected devices off the internet, affording hackers the opportunity to grab passwords and personal information whilst the re-verification process takes place.
And what if you lose your phone? It’s been a fair few years since I crawled back from the pub after a heavy night on the booze, but we all know that somebody who did and woke up without a phone. Losing your house keys is bad enough, but at least anonymity should afford you the time to get a locksmith out. If you lose your phone – or have it stolen – you might not be so lucky.
Concerns around wi-fi connectivity have also been flagged. If the internet went down, so would your video feed. Take away the ability to monitor who comes and goes – and when – and uneasiness levels start to peak. Even more so if you have children.
The kit itself is pretty pricey, although not prohibitively so if you were already in the market for a video doorbell or security solution. In addition to the cost of an annual Prime membership, the keypad and Cloud Cam would set you back upwards of $290. Add to that the cost of a subscription for accessing video clips (and professional installation, if required), and it’s shaping up to be a costly alternative to your standard set of keys.
Supporters of the service have shared how it has prevented doorstep theft and provided an option for the safe delivery of parcels when neighbours can’t be trusted, aren’t available or live too far away. Thankfully folks nicking parcels isn’t an issue where I live, but it’s clearly a problem in the US as this video shows.
Others have championed the use of Key for non-Amazon services such as dog walking and house sitting, or for allowing electricians, plumbers, cleaners and so on access to your property whilst you’re away or at work.
In May 2018, Megan Wollerton published an article on CNET entitled “Amazon Key took over my door for 3 months. It wasn’t as creepy as I expected”, detailing her experience:
I was a little nervous the first time I scheduled a Key delivery. I tidied up our entryway, I triple-checked to make sure my dog was safely tucked away in a bedroom and I felt generally weird about a stranger unlocking my door without me being there. But I ultimately scheduled four deliveries through Amazon Key -- three successful, one with the storm door locked -- without being creeped out.
The delivery provider never once walked into my house; the most I ever saw was an arm reaching in to drop off a package. While I started out hesitant about in-home delivery, I'd be comfortable enough to use it going forward (and to recommend it to frequent Amazon customers) -- as long as I can keep an eye on whoever's delivering the packages from my phone.
The only major concern I still have relates to the possibility of my Wi-Fi network and Cloud Cam video stream not working optimally during a delivery so I couldn't watch what was happening in real time, or adequately review the clip later on.
Wollerton’s statement - “It wasn’t as creepy as I expected” - doesn’t fill me with confidence. By implication, the process was indeed creepy – just not to the levels Wollerton had anticipated. Surely any level of “creepiness” is sufficient to be seriously off-putting…
What’s more, in my recent blog – Cybercrime: The Dark Side of the Internet – I explored the work of security researchers Chase Dardaman and Jason Wheeler who had identified three security flaws which, when combined, could be abused to open any door with a so-called “smart lock”.
Suffice to say, I won’t be converting until smart lock technology has advanced considerably. I’d rather my (easily replaceable) parcels be at risk than my family, my home or my privacy. I’m sure you would too.