Amazon Wearables Takes Creepy Turn With New Wrist Device

Amazon introduces Halo, a smart band that can make 3-D body scans from photos to check body fat and read wearers’ emotion via voice print.

Amazon’s latest wearable device, unveiled Thursday and made available on an early invite-only basis, packs in many of the typical features consumers have come to expect from their wrist devices, plus a couple of new tricks that may be…well, a little off-putting.

Apart from tracking things like cardio and sleep, the screenless Halo smart band also offers two notable artificial intelligence-driven features called Body and Tone. Body checks for body fat using 3-D body scans made from smartphone photos, and Tone tracks the wearer’s emotional states based on vocal tones captured by the wristband.

While Halo comes equipped with a microphone, there’s no Alexa action going on there, unlike its other wearables. The device is not intended to be a smart assistant, and neither is it a hardcore exercise tracker, health-monitoring gadget or medical device. The company’s positioning Halo as more of a wellness gadget, which means it doesn’t need a whole host of quantified fitness features or compliance with HIPAA privacy rules.

Still Amazon, recognizing perhaps that this sort of technology depends on user trust, promises that voice print recordings stay on the smartphone, so the audio files are never uploaded to Amazon’s servers.

The body imaging is a different story, however. The user is directed to wear tight clothes, preferably underwear, and snap photos from the front, back and sides. Those images are sent to Amazon servers — temporarily, according to the company — so its system can cobble together a 3-D model from the full-body selfies. Then they’re deleted, without a human-being ever seeing them, the company pledged.

The technology asks far more of consumers than just the $100 retail price and a $4 regular monthly subscription, which is waived for six months with the introductory promotion of $65. Using these features requires a leap of faith, which is a big ask as high-profile tech companies are being scrutinized for their data privacy failures.

Amazon itself got in hot water when it was revealed last year that thousands of contractors and staffers were listening to what Alexa users were telling their smart speakers. Unintentional privacy breaches happen, too, as in 2018, when Amazon accidentally sent 1,700 Alexa voice recordings to the wrong person, in a response to a user data request.

That’s likely driving the company’s siloed approach to Halo voice files now. But the other content at stake involves photos of people in their undergarments being sent to Amazon servers.

Halo users don’t have to use these features, of course. But there’s not enough there otherwise to set it apart from other, more robust smart bands and watches available on the market, including the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch3 or one of Fossil Group’s multitude of fashion-branded wearables.