Fake News: Amazon Wants a Key to Your House

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I’m getting tired of headlines that present something you might want to do as something you’d have to be crazy to do. Last week was a case in point: Headline after headline shouted out that Amazon wanted to get a key to your house. The initial reaction was, as you might expect, hell no — but the reality is far more nuanced.

You see, there are a lot of folks who live in places where their front entrance isn’t secure and they don’t really have a yard, so when they get a package from Amazon it often goes to whoever sees it on the doorstep first. Finding a way to secure the package is something these folks want to do but they sure as hell don’t want unknown delivery people wandering through their house five-finger discount shopping.

What Amazon has created should make your house smarter and more secure than it is now — not less secure, as the headlines would imply. Reactions to Amazon’s new offer demonstrate the pervasiveness of fake news and click bait, regardless of the topic.

I’ll close with my product of the week: the interesting new TiVo Bolt Vox, which adds voice control to the most powerful DVR on the planet.

Click Bait and Fake News

What is probably the most annoying thing about President Trump and his claims about fake news is how often he is right. Granted, an inordinate number of his claims do imply that anything he doesn’t like, regardless of truth, is fake.

However, there is a ton of fake news out there. I’m sure most of us, and I include myself, have seen what appeared to be an interesting story and clicked on it, or listened to it on the news, and then realized we’d been duped.

I no longer click on any link that implies I’ll see something amazing. However, it is far harder to be discriminating when you see a headline like “Amazon Wants a Key to Your House.” There could be a reason for that, and I guessed correctly. The story did have something to do with package theft, which has been a massive problem for Amazon and its customers.

Amazon’s Solution

Amazon has not proposed that you give the company a physical key to your house. What it has proposed is to take you a little bit into the future, giving you a rudimentary smart house for a couple hundred dollars worth of hardware.

The hardware is an electronic lock for your front door and a wireless camera, both of which are connected to a Web service. Once the camera is installed, you can track your package to the door, and the service will unlock your door long enough for someone to put the package inside. It then locks the door again.

The entire event — which you can watch live on your phone if you are concerned — is recorded on video and stored. The delivery folks know they are on camera, and the likelihood they will decide to go in and go shopping is remote, given the service knows who they are and they’d get arrested quickly.

They generally wouldn’t enter the house — they would just set the package inside the door and leave.

Secondary Advantages

This system has many secondary advantages. If you lock yourself out of the house, the service should be able to unlock your door for you remotely. The locks have keypads, though, so you wouldn’t need a key in the first place.

That lack of key is important, because people you do give your keys to — like car repair shops and valets — have had folks copy those keys and then use them to break into homes. Without a need for a key, you don’t have that concern.

You also may have given keys to service providers like nannies or house cleaners, who also could have made copies. If you should terminate them, or they quit for any other reason, the keys you’ve given them — or the copies they’ve made — could be anywhere.

With the Amazon system, the camera should capture anyone who opens the door. If your child, spouse or a burglar comes in, you’ll have a video record. This will allow you to keep that family member who didn’t make curfew honest — and it should help you catch the burglar, who may be some neighbor kid looking for a little excitement.

In short, you will be more secure when the Amazon system is in place than you previously were, and you may be motivated to put digital locks on more of your doors for the same reason.

Other advantages are that if you have someone coming by to stay with you, to repair something, or to inspect something, you don’t have to give them a key. You just unlock the door remotely and let them in if you can’t get home — or you are, as is often the case, running late, stuck in traffic, got the appointment day wrong, or just forgot it.

I have these things on all but one of my doors (the front door uses a 5-bolt locking system that I haven’t been able to find an electronic lock for). The alarm system not only locks the electronic locks at night, but also unlocks them automatically in the event of a fire, so that firefighters can get in, and I can get out more quickly.

Issues to Consider

This doesn’t mean the solution is without issues. If there is a power outage, the locks (which are battery operated) will continue to function, but the camera and your ability to remotely unlock the locks will be inoperable until your network comes back up.

You can get around part of this with a battery backup system. However, basically this just means you drop back to where the house was before. You can give out the lock’s access number to let someone in if you aren’t home, and then change it later.

What would concern me the most is if I were home and naked when the delivery person arrived with the package. Granted, at my age I’m likely more worried about their eyesight than my own modesty, but the issue remains.

However, if you stay out of sight of the front door when you’re indisposed, and if they ring or knock before opening the door, which they’re supposed to do, that won’t be an issue. If you’re still concerned, you can disable the service when you are home or choose not to install it in the first place.

It would be nice if, though geofencing, the solution knew whether you were home or not, but then again, what if you are in the bathtub?

In my case the front door opens to a staircase I’ll not be on, and I have dogs that appear to be able to hear delivery folks at a significant distance.

That brings up another concern, though. If you leave your dog free to roam the house during the day and the dog likes to bite delivery folks, then you may have to pass on this service. I’m pretty sure Amazon would frown on having delivery people push packages in only to come out one hand short of what they started with.

Now if you could teach the delivery folks to carry treats, my dogs likely would slobber them to death, they’d be so excited to see the treats.

Wrapping Up

I’m getting kind of tired of being misled almost all the time. This idea of Amazon being able to selectively lock and unlock my house while recording folks who enter it is a security improvement over the options many customers now have rather than a scary stupid security risk.

Yes, you do have to worry a bit about a camera in your home owned by others and what happens with your pets or small children when the front door opens unexpectedly if they are biters or runners. (I’ve seen a lot of small children who, when they see an open door, think they are trying out for the Olympics running team and dogs that think they are auditioning for The Great Escape, so that must be taken into consideration.)

However, for many people, this will help keep delivered packages safer, and it generally should also keep your household safer, making this a good thing rather than a crazy stupid one for most of us.

To be clear, you wouldn’t be giving Amazon a key. You would be giving the company the ability to turn the door lock into something that is potentially far more useful than it is today.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I’m a long time TiVo user. TiVo gave me a box when it first launched the service, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The company introduced the Bolt, its newest generation, some time ago, but last week it announced a new iteration, the Bolt Vox, which adds voice control and far stronger recommendations.

TiVo Bolt Vox

TiVo BoltVox

TiVo over time has become a hybrid solution, blending recording from your cable provider with an ever-increasing number of streaming alternatives. Often, if you miss recording a show, the user interface will present several streaming options to catch you up.

One of the issues with the last-generation Bolt was that it was a little underpowered, and some streamed shows lost audio quality or audio sync as a result.

The TiVo Vox should add more performance to address the quality problems. It also adds voice control, allowing you to ask for recommendations and see them appear almost immediately. You can search movies by a key line in them if you’ve forgotten the name. You also can do voice queries, like “What you can get on the Amazon Echo?”

This Vox service comes in three units: a four-tuner unit (tapes four shows simultaneously), a six-tuner service (six shows), and the TiVo Mine Vox, so you can move the TiVo programing all over the house and retain voice command.

When I travel, I carry an Amazon Fire TV that I plug into the hotel room TV, and I load the TiVo app, which allows me to stream what I’ve got recorded at home in my hotel room. (My wife isn’t as into cars as I am, so I tend to have a lot of car shows to catch up on when I travel.)

The TiVo Bolt Vox is a powerful update to the best DVR (almost the only remaining DVR) in the market. It remains one of my favorite platforms, so it is my product of the week.

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