Keep virtual assistants with cameras out of guestrooms
 
Keep virtual assistants with cameras out of guestrooms
30 JUNE 2017 7:12 AM

Amazon’s new Echo Show sounds like an amazing new development in virtual assistants for consumers, but this leading-edge device for homes would be nothing but trouble for hoteliers.

There should be no need for me to write about this, but I’m going to because I’m afraid someone will, even for half a second, think it’s a good idea for guestrooms.

Amazon is releasing the Echo Show, its newest smart speaker/virtual assistant that seems targeted to people’s kitchen counters with its voice command capabilities and newly introduced screen for displaying videos.

The new device will let people pull up recipes, scan things to order off Amazon, play Amazon and YouTube videos, display lyrics when playing music and make video calls to other Echo Shows or people with the Alexa smartphone app, according to the review. That last part worries me the most. To make video calls, you would use the Echo Show’s built-in camera.

I hope I don’t need to explain why it’s a terrible idea for hoteliers to put devices with cameras into guestrooms. What happened to Erin Andrews and all of the data breaches over the past few years should raise red flags for anyone looking over this new tech.

This is new technology, which means it likely comes with the latest and greatest encryption available, or at least I would hope it does given how potentially intrusive the device could be inside people’s homes. Remember, these devices, when functioning correctly, are always listening to (but not necessarily recording) what people say in order to respond to the activation phrase.

The camera in the Echo Show would be similar to the camera on a tablet or a laptop—off but ready to go when someone turns on the app associated with it. However, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg covers up his laptop’s webcam. James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, recommends everyone else should do the same. Why? This is why (warning: people being horrible): Just because you think the webcam is off doesn’t mean it is.

How would the average hotel employee know whether a virtual assistant with a built-in camera has been compromised by a hacker?

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little warning you that the sky is falling. Each new smart speaker/virtual assistant is an amazing technological development, so it’s definitely worth hoteliers’ time to at least keep an eye on them and see how they could improve hospitality overall as newer and better versions come out.

That said, I have great reservations about introducing any device that could invade guests’ privacy, especially if it has a camera installed in it. Safety and security regularly top guests’ needs during their hotel stays, and it’s a fair argument that privacy falls squarely in that category. That’s why the hotel industry took a guest privacy case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

I’m not entirely convinced the Echo Show, with its current features, would find a natural fit in any hotel room, but it won’t be the last of its kind. There will be newer versions and different takes on the same concept, just as this is an offshoot of Amazon’s other virtual assistants. With each new virtual assistant that comes out, please make sure you think long and hard before you introduce it, along with its (potentially) ever-watching camera, into your guestrooms.

Do you agree, or am I being paranoid? Tell me what you think. Leave a response in the comments below or contact me at bwroten@hotelnewsnow.com or @HNN_Bryan.

The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact and editor with any questions or concerns.

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