Neighborhood Watch

A new patent application by commerce giant Amazon describes a smart doorbell that would use a camera to monitor users' neighborhoods using facial recognition technology and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Needless to say, it immediately made privacy advocates uncomfortable.

"The patent is a roadmap for Amazon's disturbing vision of surveillance in the future," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jacob Snow told CNN Business. "People have the right to go about their daily lives without being watched and tracked. And there's no assurance the resolution of the doorbell camera is very good."

Patent Pending

The patent for the doorbell lists as its inventor James Siminoff, the CEO of home security startup Ring, which Amazon acquired in February 2018.

There's no guarantee that a patent will become an actual product — remember those goofy VR rollerskates Google filed an application for in November? — but CNN speculated that Amazon's interest in the doorbell is connected to its social network called Neighbors, which is built on Ring technology and is meant to share information about thieves who steal packages.

The implication: that Amazon's system could become a distributed digital narc that collected information even about neighbors who chose not to use its smart products — like a private-sector version of the ubiquitous cameras in George Orwell's "1984."

Good Kid, Smart City

Amazon and Ring's peers seem circumspect about the patent. Matt Pruit, the chief solutions architect at NEC, which also develops facial recognition tech, told CNN that the impact of the technology depends on how it's rolled out.

"Smart city or surveillance state are two sides of the same coin," he told CNN. "Technology in itself is neither good or bad. It's how it's used in the end."

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