Style

This new Amazon device can give you fashion advice. But, warns UNC prof, what else it is finding out?

This screen shot shows Amazon’s promotional video for Echo Look.
This screen shot shows Amazon’s promotional video for Echo Look. Amazon.com

If Amazon’s new Echo Look, a service that promises in-your-bedroom wardrobe analysis via an internet-connected camera, doesn’t seem unsettling to you, a UNC professor may convince you otherwise.

On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled the $200 Look (currently available “exclusively by invitation”). The device is designed for fashion selfies and wardrobe help. With the accompanying app, called “Style Check,” you can take not only snapshots, but also videos of yourself twirling in your favorite skinny jeans or frowning over belly bloat.

Not sure what to wear today? Amazon will take the place of your brutally honest best friend: “Just pick two outfits” (upload selfies of you in them first, of course), “and Style Check will give you a recommendation based on current trends and what flatters you,” a promotional video chirps.

Got a free Saturday? Put on every outfit you own and create a “lookbook” to swipe through on those mornings when you’ve got the fashion sense of a toddler in Garanimals.

Amazon isn’t hiding the fact that the device will be used to market new clothes to you – “Echo Look helps you discover new brands and styles inspired by your lookbook,” the company says. But if you invite Amazon’s eyes into your bedroom, are you allowing the Seattle-based tech giant to learn more about you than whether you prefer plaids or stripes?

Yes, tweeted Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor in the School of Information and Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill, to her 244,000 Twitter followers. Tufekci has been a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton, and has done two TED Talks, the most recent last October, entitled “Machine intelligence makes human morals more important.”

“Amazon may display interest-based advertising using information customers make available to us when they interact with our sites, content, or services,” a spokesperson said, according to Mashable.

To be sure, Amazon will be able to see the designer handbag collection perched in the background of your photos, or whether your bathroom is encased in Carrara marble. But what else are you telling the cloud, as you take that 360-degree video selfie?

Tufekci told Marketplace Tech: “What I fear is that we’re stepping into a ‘surveillance capitalism’ that is going to envelop us and nudge us and manipulate us – one cool service at a time....

“The trick to these machine learning algorithms that Amazon openly says it’s going to use on this new product is that the programmers don’t understand what it’s doing either... So we’re empowering computation and machines to manipulate us and we’re just doing it at such speeds. That’s what’s worrying me.”

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