In the classic 1960s TV show Bewitched, Samantha Stephens and her dim-witted husband Darrin live in a typical suburban neighborhood patrolled by their nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz. Snooping through the Stephens’ window, Gladys is witness to strange shenanigans which she tries to show her retired and bored husband Abner. But every time Gladys drags Abner to the window, there is nothing to see. Mrs. Kravitz’s insatiable curiosity is iconic in American culture, but it appears Amazon is giving her a run for her money. The shopping giant is poised to take neighborhood snooping into the 21st century, and even the most trusting among us may find the company’s latest plans deeply intrusive.
Most Americans have given their privacy over to digital convenience, believing the exchange to be worth it. But there is something ingrained in the American consciousness that considers one’s home sacred. It is a place where we feel safe from prying eyes, and thus any invasion of peace and solitude on the home front is regarded with suspicion. If Amazon’s plan meets with government approval, the hallowed home ground may be shattered, and razed for all time.
Bewitched by the Patent
Filing a patent for delivery drones with the U.S. government, Amazon seeks to become a new and improved Mrs. Kravitz – but with a twist. The patent claims those who sign up for this new service will receive 24/7 surveillance of their home. The mega-giant suggests this will be helpful to the homeowner in case of fire or theft. Better, the A-drones will be able to capture on tape who is stealing Amazon goodies delivered at your doorstep. Oh, and it can check on the kids for you while you’re at the office.
Indeed, the proposed patent will serve as a high-tech alarm that should set off bells and whistles to those who want to maintain a modicum of privacy and seek to maintain their rights as free people. If approved, the notion of a man as king of his castle will crumble like a stale saltine cracker.
According to RT.com, “Amazon does grudgingly admit that filming a property might ‘possibly’ require ‘consent of other people residing at that location,’ and the patent seems to take into account the existence of multiple layers of possibly-contradictory local and federal laws concerning surveillance of private property and public property.”
Amazon even admits that geo-fencing may be needed with the new technology. This would involve removing footage of neighbors and their property from the customer’s video. As to how the tech company might accomplish this – well, that’s a gray area. Or in the words of philosopher Iwrin Fletcher from the movie Fletch, “How gray? Charcoal.” The brain trust at Amazon asserts that the neighbors and their homes could be obscured or blurred out in the recordings, but the question arises as to whether these masked images could be reverse engineered, thus violating the privacy of one’s neighbor.
Good Fences, Good Neighbors
Maintaining neighborly relations can be tricky even without the possibility of privacy invasion. The adage that fences make good neighbors is prevailing orthodoxy for a reason. Should neighbors suspect they are being videotaped by the people next door, a Pandora’s Box of execrable offenses may be taken – and rightly so.
Despite years of promising drone delivery, Amazon has never quite achieved lift-off with its new technology, and one senses the hang-up might be a little thing called the right to privacy. Outdoor shower with no roof – Amazon will be there! E-commerce head honcho Jeff Bezos may have had his personal pictures streamed all over the internet, but that doesn’t give him the right to videotape the rest of us taking a long, slow pull on a brew and hanging out on a hot summer’s day by the backyard pool.
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