Amazon’s New Robot ‘Astro’ Is Lovable and Smart. It May Also Be a Privacy Disaster Waiting to Happen.

Read the latest news on Amazon’s autonomous robot, which can help with lots of essential household tasks but has some serious privacy risks.

10/5/21

Jaime Fraze


Amazon’s recent product announcement included a new Ring drone cam, a Blink doorbell camera, and a smart thermostat. But it was Astro, Amazon’s first smart robot, that stole the show.

Astro, which resembles Wall-E of Pixar fame, looks like every homeowner’s dream come true: a task-managing bot that can move autonomously around your home, helping you with everyday chores, keeping you safer and adding more convenience to your daily routine.

Astro can navigate to specific areas, show you a live view of rooms, or even send alerts if it detects an unrecognized person. If you want to see if you left the windows open, or make sure the dogs aren’t misbehaving, you can send Astro to check. It also works with Alexa Guard, a new service that can detect the sounds of smoke and CO alarms, and broken glass.

Astro Home Robot. (Photo: Amazon)

Astro Home Robot. (Photo: Amazon)

You could call it Alexa on wheels. Or perhaps Alexa on steroids. But whatever metaphor you choose, you can’t ignore the grim reality that Astro, by its very design, brings with it some very serious privacy concerns.

Astro can deliver food and other products from one room to another. (Photo: Amazon)

Astro can deliver food and other products from one room to another. (Photo: Amazon)

How, you might be asking? Well, take a look at those two big, beady eyes on Astro’s screen, for starters. As Astro moves and glides around the house, those eyes are constantly learning faces and recognizing sounds, performing tasks you’ve scheduled, and getting the full picture of your home and everything in it. That’s a window into your private life that even Ring’s new Always Home drone cam can’t reveal. In other words, proceed with caution.

This may sound obvious, but the more personal data you give Astro, the more of a data minefield it becomes. Hackers have already been caught breaching Ring cameras and spying on unsuspecting homeowners,1 so we know it’s possible. And it’s definitely something to think about before rushing out and buying Astro this holiday season.

It’s not all bad, though. Minus the privacy concerns, the benefits of Astro are numerous, especially if you’re willing to spend a little extra per month on monitoring.

Using Ring Protect Pro, a new $20-per-month subscription and monitoring service from Ring, Astro can patrol your home when you’re out and investigate anything suspicious or unusual. Like other Alexa-enabled products, Astro can play your favorite music, podcast, or audiobook. Plus, you can automatically save video clips from Astro’s camera to the same place you store video from your Ring cameras.

Astro patrols the scene. (Photo: Amazon)

Astro patrols the scene. (Photo: Amazon)

So … Is Astro Worth It?

Amazon’s Astro looks cute and is unbelievably smart, but we can’t quite get past its litany of cybersecurity risks. Since it’s still early, Amazon would be wise to address some of these concerns before unleashing Astro to the masses.

That said, we won’t know the full advantages and disadvantages of Astro until we get our hands on one and subject it to our thorough series of tests and reviews. Until then, check back here for real-time updates on Astro and the rest of Amazon’s new home security and smart home gadgets.

Citations
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  1. ABC News. Terrifying video of family’s hacked Ring camera system.
    https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/News/video/terrifying-video-familys-hacked-ring-camera-system-67704081