fitness · technology

Amazon Halo: bringing 24/7 surveillance and judgment, just in time for the holidays

As if Amazon had not already elbowed its way into our lives enough, now they’re in the wearable health and fitness tracker business. Enter the Amazon Halo.

Amazon Halo silver wrist band and smartphone app.

There are some features that make the Halo different from Apple watches or other wearable fitness trackers. Halo’s wristband doesn’t have any display. To get information, you need the app. But the two features below are more notable and worrisome:

  1. Halo listens in on your conversations all day long, sending it to Amazon for analysis of your “tone”.

2. Halo requests four full-body photos of you in your undies that it sends to Amazon, so it can do a body-fat analysis on you.

Let’s start with the first one. Yes, Halo is actually a tone judger and tone policer, one you’re supposed to pay good money for (well, $99, which includes a six-month subscription to the app). What do I mean here? Let’s see what this review from the Washingon Post had to say.

You train the device to recognize your voice by reading sample phrases, and then it listens out constantly for moments in conversation that go beyond your neutral tone… The Halo plots these moments as positive vs. negative and high vs. low energy, and then applies more nuanced descriptors to them.

Amazon said it spent years training its tone AI by having people categorize voice recordings. The company held internal trials and says it tried to address any biases that might arise from varying ethnicity, gender, or age.

In our experience, the Halo could detect ups and downs in our voice, but seemed to misinterpret situations regularly. And some of the feedback feels, ironically, a bit tone-deaf — especially when judging a woman’s voice.

In short, the reviewers felt like Halo was at best not insightful in judging tone, and at worst kind of offensive. Here’s more from the reviewers:

Now, one thing that people like about biometric trackers is that, once the app has analyzed your info, it then offers you a plan for improving on whatever state it has judged you to be in. But what are we supposed to do about our tone of voice? Does Halo have a plan for that? Uh, no. It doesn’t even tell you when you sounded rushed or sad or irritated or enraged or wistful, much less what to do about it. The reviewers sounded, in my judgment, displeased:

…there are no personalized suggestions based on your tone, such as how to sound less “sad” in the middle of an isolated holiday season during a pandemic.

The Halo has invented a new personal behavior to feel self-conscious about, which we suppose is a kind of innovation.

I judge that last utterance tone as ironic.

On to feature 2)– the analysis of nearly-naked 360-view photos you are supposed to send to Amazon for body fat analysis. Here’s a photo of what they have in mind.

hand holding a smartphone with image of woman in underwear, for 3-D modeling and body fat analysis. Like that’s happening.

So many things wrong here– for brevity’s sake (and because I love them), I’ll make a list:

  • Send identified photos of me (along with loads of other biometric data) to Amazon for analysis, with their wimpy privacy promises? Hell to the no.
  • The accuracy of Halo’s body fat analysis is unproven; the Post reviewers found some problems and inconsistencies.
  • Halo doesn’t even pretend to offer any physical activity suggested based on the information you provide; instead it offers some audio and video recordings from other companies, and you can choose what to do yourself.

Honestly, I could get a lot more information about how some outside authority thought I looked by visiting my relatives. And unlike Halo, they would follow up with customized advice, just for me. Guaranteed.

Readers, have any of you tried the Halo? X-ray glasses? Do you worry about sending loads of data to our technology overlords? Let me know– I’d love to hear your stories, and I promise not to share them with anyone…

5 thoughts on “Amazon Halo: bringing 24/7 surveillance and judgment, just in time for the holidays

  1. What kind of tone will it detect when I’m ranting about Jeff Bezos being so obscenely and disgustingly rich?

    No effing way!

  2. I had no idea about this, thanks for sharing. Seems like this could be useful to some people but I’m not keen on being listened to 24/7 😆

  3. I love this post Catherine. You cannot make this crap up!!! I mean, obviously, this device is evil, but what makes the whole thing so damn funny is that it’s like Google has unwittingly created pure, unadulterated proof that they ARE in fact evil! (As well as manifestly incompetent.) A photo of this device needs to be placed next to the definition of irony in the dictionary. 🙂

  4. i’ve been teaching almost 20 years. i don’t think i need an ap or a tracker to tell me when i have a tone….

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