Amazon just announced a new fitness tracker with some unique features and a unique business model. For a monthly subscription, the Amazon Halo app (with the help of the accompanying Halo Band) promises to track your body fat percentage and judge your emotional state based on your tone -- if you send Amazon some selfies in your underwear and let it listen to your conversations.
Amazon Halo is as much service as it is gadget, with the Halo app as the hub for its main features which range from fairly standard activity and sleep tracking to the more advanced but invasive body fat percentage tracking and tone analysis. For body fat analysis, the app requires that you upload photos of yourself wearing "tight, minimal clothing (think a sports bra and bike shorts for women; boxers or briefs for men)".
If you opt into tone analysis, the Halo Band will automatically use its microphones to record snippets of your voice throughout the day, using machine learning to "analyze the positivity and energy of your voice—positivity is measured by how happy or sad you sound, and energy is how excited or tired you sound."
Amazon claims these features are designed with privacy in mind, with body scan images deleted after processing and voice analysis performed on device. But after dozens of high-profile tech data breaches across a number of top tier companies, you'd be right to be skeptical. Not to mention that mere metadata can reveal more than you might think.
But on top of privacy concerns, machine learning algorithms, employed in both features, are known for reproducing biases which is especially concerning in two areas already fraught with sexist double standards. It's a sticky situation Amazon is hopefully cognizant of after its snafu with an internal AI-based hiring tool that saw fit to discriminate against women.
Amazon Halo is launching in early-access form today, with a special price of $65 ($99 without the promotion) for the first six months, and a recurring fee of $4 afterwards.