Rushing home to sign for a package can be a chore, and nothing craters a day like having a delivery stolen from your doorstep. The question Amazon asks with its new Key app and Cloud security camera: Are those annoyances enough to let a delivery person into your home, unattended, to drop off a box?
The answer should present itself soon enough, at least in the 37 cities in which Amazon will launch its new in-home delivery service as of November 8. There, customers who purchase an Amazon Cloud Cam, own a compatible smart lock, and download the accompanying Amazon Key app can grant access for in-home deliveries—and watch the drop-offs live, remotely.
The system, exclusive for Prime members, costs $250 to get started, a price that includes both the camera and a smart lock from either Kwikset or Yale. (You can also buy the cameras individually for $120, with a slight discount applied for buying multiples.) And while Amazon has gone to some lengths to minimize the creepiness of a definitionally invasive service, it still forces potential enlistees to consider just what kind of trade-offs they’re willing to make in the name of convenience.
Amazon says that in-home delivery will be available for “tens of millions” of items, whether it’s sent same-day, standard, or any shipping method in between. As for those safety measures: Amazon’s doing what it can to ensure that strangers don’t game its system.
Chief among those steps: At no time does a password exchange hands. Instead, the day of your delivery you get a four-hour window to expect your package. Amazon confirms that the assigned driver is at the correct address at the intended time through an encrypted authentication process—scanning the package barcode bounces a request to the cloud, where software checks that the time, place, and package all line up. Amazon sends you a notification that delivery is imminent. The Cloud Cam kicks in, the door unlocks, and you can watch either in real-time or check back after to make sure that no one took the opportunity to fondle your fern.
The Cloud Cam, too, includes some functionality to help tone down the creep factor. A green LED lights up whenever it records. It only stores videos in the cloud for 24 hours by default, or longer if you purchase an accompanying monthly plan that allows playback for up to 30 days. (A week of motion detection clips playback for up to three cameras costs $59 per year, two weeks costs $100 per year, and 30 days runs $200 per year.) Video files are encrypted both in transit and at rest. And you can turn off features like motion-detection if you don’t want Amazon knowing every time you shuffle in and out the door.
Most importantly, though, Amazon says it won’t use what Cloud Cam sees to serve you products down the road.
“The Cloud Cam videos are for you the customer,” says Charlie Tritschler, Amazon VP of product development. “They’re not something Amazon is using to analyze purchase behavior, or anything like that.”
Still, the Key system is that rare occasion where the Amazon camera is less potentially off-putting than what it’s pointing at. Specifically, a stranger entering your home.
“I think there’s a lot of unknowns there,” says Ben Bajarin, consumer technology researcher at Creative Strategies. “I recognize that they’ve identified a pain point. I applaud they’re trying to solve it. I’m just not sure this is the one people are ready for yet.”
That problem potentially compounds down the line. Today, Amazon assures that its in-home delivery professionals have gone through comprehensive background checks. But it plans eventually to open up the service to third-party vendors, like Merry Maids and Rover, over which Amazon does not exert direct vetting. Amazon offers a “Happiness Guarantee” in the event that something goes wrong, but it’s unclear what sort of remediation that entails.
Amazon Key isn’t cause for hysterics. No one’s forced to use it, and the people that do surely know the inherent risks of opening the door to strangers, whether you can watch them in real-time or not. It’s not even the first to try something like this; Walmart recently tested a related in-home grocery delivery service. And that one didn’t even use a camera.
But Amazon Key is not just a trial. It’s a service potentially available to millions of people from day one. And its success could provide a useful barometer of just how far people are willing to go in the name of avoiding a little hassle.
Cam a Lot
That Amazon has paired the Cloud Cam so prominently with Key at launch seems a bit puzzling, given that the camera itself offers a decent standalone package. It lacks a few bells and whistles—including face recognition, an absence that some may see as a privacy plus—but gives Amazon a presence in a quickly expanding smart-home category.
“It meets the majority of monitoring needs and is reasonably priced compared to other cameras in the market,” says Adam Wright, a smart-home analyst with research company IDC.
It touts 1080p recording, the ability to distinguish human movement versus, well, other, has IR illumination for proper night vision, and features over-the-air updates to plug any privacy holes that emerge. Tritschler notes that if a new feature comes through that makes you uneasy—say, face recognition, someday—you’ll be able to pick and choose what you use. It also, naturally, has Alexa built in.
“We’ve integrated Cloud Cam into any of the Alexa-enabled devices that have video. So if you’ve got an Echo Show, or the newly announced Echo Spot, or you’ve got a Fire TV or an Alexa-enabled Fire tablet, you can just say ‘Alexa, show me my front door,’ and that video will pop up on those devices,” says Tritschler. You can also use the Cloud Cam’s two-way audio with any of those features, to talk to your delivery person or make spooky noises at the mailman.
It’s, you know, a security camera. And an affordable one, at that, which works just fine without integrating Key.
For those who do take the extra step? Amazon Key may well open up a new world of convenience. It also invites the erosion of your privacy in new and intimate ways. It erases old boundaries and seeks to place them somewhere new, a process that repeats until one forgets what a boundary ever was.