Lennar now integrating Amazon Alexa surveillance into new home construction

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited April 2018
Major U.S. home builder Lennar, along with other regional home builders, has partnered with Amazon to install multiple Echo microphones into new housing together with Alexa-controlled light switches, thermostats and even door locks that grant access to Amazon delivery workers--creating a wider threat of Facebook-style corporate surveillance and invasions of privacy.




Amazon's push to get Alexa-devices installed in new home construction aims to "boost the number of people using Alexa-powered products, giving Amazon access to data on people's living habits that Amazon can use to sell more goods and services," noted a report by Aaron Tilley and Priya Anand for The Information.

It's also a direct offensive against Apple's HomeKit platform for home automation, without the same interest in data security and privacy that Apple has pioneered. Last summer, Lennar began advertising integration with Alexa voice-first microphones as well as "whole-home automation by Samsung SmartThings," another platform associated with security issues.

He knows when you've been sleeping, he know's when you're awake

Amazon's Alexa strategy is working toward scenarios where the service could decide to perform regular tasks automatically, the report noted, such as "turning off the lights on its own based on what it has learned about the person's habits," or scheduling a house cleaner and then giving them access to your home.

Amazon previously floated a digital lock initiative designed to allow its Prime members to opt into allowing Amazon to unlock a user's home to leave deliveries inside. However, this was poorly received due to fears that allowing unknown delivery people into one's home might not be a great idea for security or privacy.

By partnering with home builders such as Lennar, Shea Homes, Meritage Homes, Brookfield Homes and other mass builders, Amazon appears to hope it can bypass consumers' hesitancy and give itself default delivery access as well the ability to siphon off comprehensive data on people's behaviors, preferences and demographics.

He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake

Amazon's tactics in home surveillance parallel the playbook of Facebook, which was designed to get users to volunteer data about themselves and everyone they knew, then analyze this data to find meaningful patterns that could be used to target individuals with the most effective advertising, based on what they do, who they know, what they watch, what they talk about and what it says about their political or religious views or commercial gullibility or other weaknesses. Any new construction incorporating Alexa listening devices, cameras and door locks is effectively a panopticon prison serving the whims of a major retailer that has been egregiously sloppy in handling user data and privacy in the past

The Information reported that Amazon is discussing its partnerships with major home builders "under a non-disclosure agreement," likely to avoid any blowback from consumers concerned about the extent of the surveillance tools being installed into their home right from its construction.

With Amazon working to install embedded Alexa microphones in the ceiling of new homes--rather than waiting for users to select and plug in a device on their own--new homes are not only optimized to listen, but can also bypass any specific approval or agreement on how data is collected, stored and used.

Data collected by Amazon has been the subject of police warrants and seizures, so any new construction incorporating Alexa listening devices, cameras and door locks is effectively a panopticon prison serving the whims of a major retailer that has been egregiously sloppy in handing user data and privacy in the past.

You better watch out, you better not cry

By doing virtually all of its business online, Amazon lacks the overhead costs of other retailers, but can also shirk any responsibility to its buyers and change the terms of its deals whenever it likes, offering different prices to different people based on whatever criteria it decides.

Just like Facebook, this can mean that certain demographics are subjects of illegal discrimination, but authorities would have a hard time identifying when this is occurring because it is done in real-time and can be started and stopped immediately.

There are also simpler examples of Amazon's unilateral, shoddy treatment of its customers. Last fall, I ordered an air filter that Amazon specifically stated would fit my vehicle. It didn't. Yet when I tried to return it, Amazon asked me to pay nearly as much to ship it back than the product cost, despite it being Amazon's fault. When I posted feedback on my issue, Amazon blocked my review. If local retailers treated customers the way Amazon does, they'd lose their business. Meanwhile, Amazon wants me to trust it to send a housecleaner into my home.


Amazon couldn't even match a simple part to my car but wants to send a cleaner into my home

Lennar moves away from HomeKit security and privacy for open-ended Alexa surveillance

Amazon's Alexa tactics for home surveillance are directly opposed to the model Apple created for HomeKit, which was based on strong security and a respect for privacy. HomeKit, Siri and products like the HomePod speaker are designed to keep user's data local to their devices and encrypted in transit. Apple does not collect data on what users do in their homes.

Further, Apple's technology is oriented to empowering users, rather than giving itself access to their homes. At WWDC 2016, the company unveiled new capabilities in iOS 10 to allow doorbell cameras to display who is at the door so the homeowner can decide whether to allow them in, rather than making such choices in the cloud or using an algorithm tuned only to facilitate online sales.

HomeKit door camera
HomeKit lets you open your door, rather than deciding on your behalf


Lennar initially partnered with Apple on HomeKit, and was formerly featured on the HomeKit site as a partner in integrating home automation products into new construction. The site currently lists Brookfield, KB, China's R&F and Germany's WeberHaus as "leading partners" that offer HomeKit packages in new home construction.


Apple's current listing of global partners in home construction


The Information stated that Amazon's partnership with Lennar is non-exclusive, and that the company can still offer HomeKit packages, but that it has shifted its priorities to Amazon because the retailer is aggressively pursuing deals with teams of "in-home service" staff who "go around to every new homeowner and make sure their smart home is hooked up."

Part of the hookup process involves selling Amazon's other services, including "house cleaning, plumbing and installation services for things like televisions and garbage disposals and roofers."

The report also noted that "Amazon can take advantage of homes with smart door locks to deliver goods inside homes, rather than leaving orders on the doorstep where they can be stolen. That could make people more willing to order from Amazon in the first place."

As part of the deal, Lennar is installing Echo Dot microphones and an Echo Show screen, designed to display video from Alexa-connected cameras, in every new home built.

Unlike HomeKit devices that initially required a hardware security chip, Amazon partners with anyone willing to support Alexa control. Less security means peripherals devices can be cheaper. If customers don't see a difference in privacy and security, those cost savings are pocketed by the builder using cheaper devices and leveraging sales staff pushing to install more surveillance gear.

Ubiquitous Internet and a lack of any scrutinzing product curation or privacy standards has created serious problems in other areas, from Facebook and other online services collecting and then leaking users' data, to apps that suck up contact data and track users' location, to devices and appliances such as Android phones and Smart Televisions from Samsung and other companies that are designed to record everything users do in their own homes and report that back to the manufacturer.

In all of these areas, Apple has taken a strident stance against promiscuous data collection, blocking access to apps that attempt to read iOS users' location or listen to their microphones without permission, and building an inherent model of privacy into products such as Apple TV, HomePod, iPads, iPhones and Macs. HomeKit imposes a similarly high standard.

If home builders embrace Amazon's model by default, some new home buyers may have to rip surveillance microphones out of their own ceilings at their own expense to avoid surveillance and privacy issues.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 49
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,982member
    The Information reports that Amazon is gaining an edge on Apple with smart home builders so AI uses it as an opportunity to smear Amazon and accuse the company of surveillance. Why am I not surprised. OK AI if Amazon is such a bad actor that people will need to “rip microphones out of their own ceilings” why isn’t Apple doing more to court home builders to make HomeKit and Siri the preferred platform for smart homes? Also why does AI have such a bias against data? Companies using data to provide better products/services isn’t a bad thing. I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    muthuk_vanalingamavon b7larrya
  • Reply 2 of 49
    And how much cheaper are these ad supported homes? :P
    racerhomie3SpamSandwichwatto_cobraleftoverbacon
  • Reply 3 of 49
    In the long run, I believe that Apple and HomeKit have lost the battle in home automation.

    Like VHS vs Betamax- while Beta was a superior product offering, it lost to VHS due to VHS starting out making two smart moves.
    1. A 2 hour movie would fit on a VHS tape, initially Beta held less.
    2. Onerous licensing to use the Beta format.

    There are parallels here-
    The Alexa (VHS) apis are more open than HomeKit's (Beta) which has kickstarted more manufacturers to offer Alexa compatible products than HomeKit.
    More competition means better prices and more features to differentiate one product from another.

    My home is filled with IOT devices, all of which connect directly to my mesh network without hubs, and are controllable by either apps or Alexa integration.
    I held off a long time waiting for HomeKit compatible equipment but even today my choices are limited.
    In the end I went the VHS route, choice won the day.

    larryawilliamhglynhpatchythepirate
  • Reply 4 of 49
    GG1GG1 Posts: 254member
    How long until nefarious entities buy/sell hacked Alexa accounts, similar to buying/selling hacked databases with credit card/identity information today?
    racerhomie3magman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 49
    Lab4UsLab4Us Posts: 30member
    The Information reports that Amazon is gaining an edge on Apple with smart home builders so AI uses it as an opportunity to smear Amazon and accuse the company of surveillance. Why am I not surprised. OK AI if Amazon is such a bad actor that people will need to “rip microphones out of their own ceilings” why isn’t Apple doing more to court home builders to make HomeKit and Siri the preferred platform for smart homes? Also why does AI have such a bias against data? Companies using data to provide better products/services isn’t a bad thing. I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    Perhaps because Apple values privacy and believes their customers do as well?  I know I would never knowingly buy a house or rent an apartment with built in microphones that I would never know if I had absolute control.  And I certainly wouldn’t buy only to have to spend my own money to remove big brother.
    Not sure why so many folks are in such a rush to live in “1984”.
    racerhomie3magman1979watto_cobraleftoverbacon
  • Reply 6 of 49
    Um, no.
    watto_cobraleftoverbacon
  • Reply 7 of 49
    JonInAtl said:
    In the long run, I believe that Apple and HomeKit have lost the battle in home automation.

    Like VHS vs Betamax- while Beta was a superior product offering, it lost to VHS due to VHS starting out making two smart moves.
    1. A 2 hour movie would fit on a VHS tape, initially Beta held less.
    2. Onerous licensing to use the Beta format.


    Actually, a case could be made that the major reason VHS won was because porn decided to use VHS.  Not the only reason, of course, and for reasons that relate to both of the reasons you gave, but without that impetus, Betamax might still have won.
    tdknoxwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 49
    It's cases like yours DED that make me happy to live in the EU. If a seller ships an incorrect product or it is faulty, they are required to pay the shipping in both directions. The lack of consumer rights in some countries is baffling. Still, my experiences with Amazon in the past have always been positive - they've sent me replacement books no-questions-asked when orders haven't turned up. I haven't had any trouble with 3rd-party sellers so far though.

    On a spectrum of Facebook -> Amazon -> Google -> Apple it seems to me that Google has found a nice happy medium where they are trustworthy enough and requesting/sharing only enough personal data that I'm willing to give up some privacy for a better service.


  • Reply 9 of 49
    Lab4Us said:
    Not sure why so many folks are in such a rush to live in “1984”.
    That is a very astute point. Why? How much is Amazon paying off the builder to get this done? It has to be a really significant sum of money... Or... Hmmm
    Is this a sign that Amazon is about to launch into House Building on a big way?
    It sort of makes sense if you look at the big picture. Amazon is IMHO positioning itself as the only store you will ever need from cradle to grave. Everything you need (as in food) or desire (clothes, houses, tech) can be met from a one stop shop. Amazon bringing back the company store 21st Century style.

    I know one thing and that is no Amazon or Google 'home automation' or IoT from any company are coming into my home.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 49
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,228member
    JonInAtl said:
    In the long run, I believe that Apple and HomeKit have lost the battle in home automation.

    Like VHS vs Betamax- while Beta was a superior product offering, it lost to VHS due to VHS starting out making two smart moves.
    1. A 2 hour movie would fit on a VHS tape, initially Beta held less.
    2. Onerous licensing to use the Beta format.


    Actually, a case could be made that the major reason VHS won was because porn decided to use VHS.  Not the only reason, of course, and for reasons that relate to both of the reasons you gave, but without that impetus, Betamax might still have won.
    You are absolutely correct.
    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 49
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,228member
    And how much cheaper are these ad supported homes? :P
    Lenar purchased US Homes in 2000 which should tell you a lot, 'cheaper' homes are their specialty although not necessarily on price,
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 49
    larryalarrya Posts: 547member
    “If home builders embrace Amazon's model by default, some new home buyers may have to rip surveillance microphones out of their own ceilings at their own expense to avoid surveillance and privacy issues.”

    Or, not connect them to their ISP
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 49
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,050moderator
    We are still in very early days of home automation.  Vehicles are replaced on about a 7-10 year cycle and you can see how long it’s been since navigation has been around, only now becoming ubiquitous.  CarPlay and Android Auto are also in their early days in terms of what they provide and will only really take off with self-driving vehicles.  The replacement cycle for homes is far longer, and so there will be decades of retrofitting existing homes while various competitors stake their claims in new construction.  And Apple was never the 85% market share company.  It will stake its claim at the high end and do very well, as time will show.  
    edited April 2018 racerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 49
    The Information reports that Amazon is gaining an edge on Apple with smart home builders so AI uses it as an opportunity to smear Amazon and accuse the company of surveillance. Why am I not surprised. OK AI if Amazon is such a bad actor that people will need to “rip microphones out of their own ceilings” why isn’t Apple doing more to court home builders to make HomeKit and Siri the preferred platform for smart homes? Also why does AI have such a bias against data? Companies using data to provide better products/services isn’t a bad thing. I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    So by your twisted logic, one can’t even be critical of ISIS burning people alive because “what if the USA were burning people alive?”

    If Apple were also harvesting data and marketing its customers as data-chattel, then it wouldn’t be any different. But that’s not the case, is it? Protecting user privacy is one reason why buyers trust Apple and pay a premium for its products. Amazon and Google aren’t fetching any premium. They are selling low margin low end stuff while their higher priced offerings don’t sell in commercial significance. 

    And if you actually read the article, the most damning criticism of Amazon’s Alexa strategy are direct quotes of The Information.

    Saying that Alexa appears to be lining up more partners is like saying Android is appearing on the most tablets. But are any making money, is there any difference in user privacy/malware/spyware, and is either sustainable long term? if you know all the answers, why aren’t people reading your editorials, or why aren’t you running a successful tech company, rather than lurking in forums and sharing embittered opinions that are both facile and generally wrong? 
    hmurchisonRayz2016racerhomie3magman1979watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 15 of 49

    JonInAtl said:
    In the long run, I believe that Apple and HomeKit have lost the battle in home automation.

    Like VHS vs Betamax- while Beta was a superior product offering, it lost to VHS due to VHS starting out making two smart moves.
    2. 

    VHS and Beta were ecosystem (movie and cassette) dependent rivals from a very different era. 

    Before homekit here were many rival protocols and proprietary variants, with no consistent security or integration model. 

    HomeKit is a model for security and interoperability, and also an interface for Siri voice control, Home (and other) app control and programmatic layouts and scene control.

    Its also an iOS development platform that ties into notifications (iOS alerts, Apple Watch) and other services. 

    Alexa is a voice platform that runs in amazon’s cloud. It shares some things in common with Siri, but it’s not similarly integrated into iOS.

    it has adoption mostly in the US, in English. 

    Recall that it wasn’t long ago that the blogosphere decided that Android won on tablets and that Apple should probably just give up. So it’s premature to assume that the same honking noises know anything other than what side of their bread is buttered. 
    edited April 2018 racerhomie3magman1979watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 16 of 49
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,063member
    This article is a glass half-empty perspective that misses some brutal limitations of Apple's current offerings. I believe Amazon is more than a few steps ahead of Apple along the path to providing real-world implementations of usable Ambient Intelligence environments - which is something Amazon seems focused on with laser like intensity. Amazon has a decent enough and growing collection of first generation sensors and actuators coupled to a very powerful back-end cloud-based computing environment. Amazon's array of sensors/actuators and back-end services (SAAS, PAAS, IAAS) will surely evolve with even greater emphasis on privacy and security. All the seemingly silly little connected widgets (IoT nodes) that Amazon pushes out helps them refine their salient attack on an eventual Ambient Intelligence environment that they will own. Amazon has always been building a general purpose services architecture that is open for extension by third parties and partners. This gets them playing in all kinds of problem domains, some which seem orthogonal to what we all think Amazon's business mission is all about. But they are pulling it off and also reinventing and evolving themselves along the way.

    Apple's services offerings are basically closed or "Apple as a Service (AAAS)" and this will ultimately limit the problem domain diversity needed to extend beyond much beyond what Apple is comfortable or able to control all on its own. I hoped that HomePod would provide some hints about where Apple was going with ambient intelligence and computing. But it's just a (great sounding) speaker and not an edge device into a larger architectural initiative. I hate to say it, but when it comes to services, ambient intelligence, ambient computing, artificial intelligence, and attacking new problem domains Amazon appears to be bold, confident, always on the offensive, and accepting of absorbing some tactical failures along the way while Apple appears to be somewhat meek, hesitant, plodding, and suffering from failure anxiety with every baby step they take. From a short term business perspective that may be okay for Apple because they have a huge device franchise to protect and they take it very seriously, while Amazon has completely taken their device play off the table and doesn't give a crap if reviewers trash their cheap hardware - because it's cheap and nobody cares if it's junk when it's dirt cheap. Amazon more than makes up for it in other areas and they are playing the long game.

    I think we need to realize that Apple may never be more than a niche player in the architectural and infrastructure services needed to flesh out a truly useful and far reaching ambient intelligence/computing environment. Apple can continue to be a premier device vendor even if their devices are simply nodes in someone else's connected architecture. I for one hope this never comes to be. I would vastly prefer that the connected architecture, infrastructure, and computing backbone needed to make all of this happen be based on an open standard managed by a consortium of companies and consumer aligned organizations rather than any single vendor. The Internet has forever changed our society and the Internet as we know it today is still in early stages of development. The primary influence the Internet of today has is around connectivity and social connectedness. When the Internet expands to become a platform for everyday knowledge, intelligence, awareness, and decision support at a personal level I really don't feel comfortable relegating these sort of things to Amazon, Google, or any other single vendor who's simply trying to enhance its shareholder's value.  
    AI_liasGG1rogifan_new[Deleted User]
  • Reply 17 of 49
    I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    The reason it wouldn't be called "surveillance" is specifically because Apple has different customer privacy standards than Amazon.
    Lab4Ushmurchisonracerhomie3watto_cobrabrucemcjony0
  • Reply 18 of 49
    dewme said:
    I believe Amazon is more than a few steps ahead of Apple along the path to providing real-world implementations of usable Ambient Intelligence environments - which is something Amazon seems focused on with laser like intensity.
    The thing to remember about "built-in" technology in homes is that technology changes very rapidly. Stuff that seems cutting-edge today can seem like a clunky anachronism in less than a decade. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 49
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,982member
    Lab4Us said:
    The Information reports that Amazon is gaining an edge on Apple with smart home builders so AI uses it as an opportunity to smear Amazon and accuse the company of surveillance. Why am I not surprised. OK AI if Amazon is such a bad actor that people will need to “rip microphones out of their own ceilings” why isn’t Apple doing more to court home builders to make HomeKit and Siri the preferred platform for smart homes? Also why does AI have such a bias against data? Companies using data to provide better products/services isn’t a bad thing. I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    Perhaps because Apple values privacy and believes their customers do as well?  I know I would never knowingly buy a house or rent an apartment with built in microphones that I would never know if I had absolute control.  And I certainly wouldn’t buy only to have to spend my own money to remove big brother.
    Not sure why so many folks are in such a rush to live in “1984”.
    What evidence is there that Amazon is anti privacy? Using data to provide better services is not anti-privacy.
  • Reply 20 of 49
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,982member
    I think we all know if Apple was the leader in this space AI wouldn’t be complaining and certainly wouldn’t be calling it “surveillance”.
    The reason it wouldn't be called "surveillance" is specifically because Apple has different customer privacy standards than Amazon.
    Really? How so? How is Amazon misusing customer data?
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