Big “Drone” Brother and the Surveillance Economy – Futurum Tech Podcast Episode 050
On this week’s edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast, Amazon drone surveillance, friend or foe. Could US tech companies move production from China to Taiwan? European central bankers are taking a close look at Libra, Facebook’s new cryptocurrency. And also updates about Google, Amazon, Foxconn, and more coming up on this episode of FTP.
Our Main Dive
Amazon was just awarded a patent designed to allow for delivery drones to double as “surveillance-as-a-service” devices, allowing them to periodically scan your home for open doors, windows, etc. Pretty cool, but it brings up the issue of the vast amount of visual/physical data that autonomous devices (drones or automobiles) will soon be collecting.
Is there a valid business case here? A government use (in fighting crime perhaps)? A personal use (yes, I’d like a drone to fly over my house while I’m away on vacation—or if I think something nefarious might be transpiring while I’m away)?
Our Fast Five
We dig into this week’s interesting and noteworthy news:
- Google won’t be delivering anymore tablets. Good.
- Google isn’t as smart as Genius, who proved Google was lifting song lyrics from its site by using straight and curly apostrophes to embed the phrase “red handed” — in morse code — into its song lyrics.
- Three EU Central Bankers are claiming oversight of Facebook’s new Libra Cryptocurrency.
- Huawei may be looking to Russia’s Avrora OS to replace Google’s Android (and further lessoning it’s reliance on US tech).
- Terry Gou is a household name (in Taiwan) and his company, Foxconn, a household name around the world. Now this Apple manufacturing powerhouse wants to become the president of Taiwan and bring iPhone manufacturing from mainland China with him.
The “Amazon Choice” recommendation doesn’t mean it’s a great product, it means it’s the product Amazon would like you to choose. Bad form, Amazon!
Crystal Ball: Future-um Predictions and Guesses
Will Amazon actually offer its “Surveillance-as-a-Service” to the general public, and if so, when? Hint: Look for commercial applications first.
Fred McClimans: Welcome to this week’s edition of FTP, the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host this week, Fred McClimans. Joining me today is my cohost as always, Olivier Blanchard. Olivier, welcome to today’s podcast.
Olivier Blanchard: Hey, it’s good to be here.
Fred McClimans: It is indeed. Now I do need to tell our listeners. And first off, welcome to our listeners as well. It is the two of us today. Last week, I was out. This week, our third colleague Dan Newman is a preoccupied dealing with some client issues, getting things done as we like to say. So it is the two of us, we’ve got a great show lined up for our listeners here today. But before we begin, as always, I do need to say that the Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. We hope you enjoy it. We hope you get a lot out of it, but please don’t take anything that we say as equity investment advice.
We are going to talk about a couple of firms that are publicly traded, but you need to make your decision and we’re not trying to suggest anything other than you enjoy the podcast and be entertained, and informed.
So Olivier, today’s topic. We’re going to talk a little bit upfront about drones and surveillance privacy. We’re then going to dive into some of our fast fives as we always do. We’re going to pick a little bit on Amazon as our tech bites winner of the week and we’ll wrap up today with our crystal ball prediction. So drones, Olivier, do you own a drone?
Olivier Blanchard: Would this be a manned drowned or an unmanned drone?
Fred McClimans: I’ll take either drone, a manned or unmanned drone.
Olivier Blanchard: No, that was a political dig. No, I actually don’t. I want one. I’ve had two fall into my, well actually one in my front yard, one of my backyard. They were never claimed. So I had them for a while, but I threw them away. But no, I don’t own one yet.
Fred McClimans: I own collectively in our household, we’ve got a closet full. I’ve had a couple of my own. In fact, I have one right now that is missing. I simply can’t find it anywhere, which is a bit annoying. Last year I did deposit one of my son’s drones into the Chesapeake Bay accidentally. But I’ve got to say, I like the technology. One of the things that I really enjoy about it, which a lot of other drone enthusiasts do as well, is the ability for that drone to not just fly around and buzz birds and cats and tree tops, but to actually record video of where it is and what it’s looking at. And that’s a really cool thing that a lot of people are really excited about, including Amazon. Here’s why.
This past week, Amazon was awarded a patent that they applied for actually back I believe in 2015. The patent is for what they are terming surveillance as a service. It’s designed to allow an Amazon drone that is being used, an autonomous drone in this case, to deliver your Amazon goodies … to while it’s in air captured data, visual data about where it is and what it sees. In particular, what they’re patenting here is the ability for that drone or a network of drones while they are flying back and forth delivering Amazon products, to swing by your house, take a look, make sure everything’s okay. Is the garage door closed? Are there any cars in the driveway that shouldn’t be there? Is there anything going on perhaps while you’re on vacation? And it sounds really cool, but it also opens up that whole issue of data that’s being captured about individuals in our daily lives, and that data being processed and used, and monetized by Amazon and potentially other players in this space as well. And it’s not limited to drones. It certainly applies to the visual data that’s being collected or will be collected in all of the autonomous vehicles that are soon to hit the marketplace as well.
So it brings up this question of where do we have a line? Is there a line that does need to be drawn here about surveillance data? Now this particular patent, it does describe how they would actually mask out, or I guess the layman’s term for it would be not look at other people’s houses next to yours. But we know that camera is going to pull that information in. They may mask it, they may block it out in the drone system or perhaps back at Amazon HQ, or HQ two, or HQ two and a half, whatever it may be a for that. But it’s still capturing that data.
And if they deploy some type of Lidar system for collision avoidance, like most autonomous vehicles are doing alongside visual, unless you’re Tesla and then you’re strictly going with visual and no Lidar, you’re still capturing all this information. In the case of a vehicle, you’re capturing who’s walking in front of the vehicle, you’re capturing what other vehicles and license plates might be around that vehicle. In the case of the drone here, it’s certainly reasonable to expect that as their drones are making their hourly fly by past your particular residence, that they’re also going to pick up other information as well.
And that information, as soon as it’s captured, it becomes something of interest to a lot of people. I could easily see where this data becomes of incredible value much like Alexa data has to the criminal justice system. They see an event taking place in an area. If it’s on the ground, they start looking at who has home surveillance systems, what Ring doorbells are out there that may have captured somebody walking across the street. Oh, we have drones? Let’s take a look at what that Amazon drone may have captured as it was flying over this part of the city.
So I look at this and I’ve got to say, I think we are not just crossing the line, we have just charged through the line of personal privacy with this technology. And it’s sort of an unintended consequence. I don’t think too many people thought about this as the market for drone and autonomous delivery systems was starting to take shape.
So I’ll put it to you. From your perspective, do you see this as first off, as significant initial as I do? And do you see that is there a way around this? Is there something that you think we should be doing either as citizens or as governments, or governments and businesses and citizens in collaboration, to make sure that we still have at least some semblance of privacy when we’re in our homes, provided we turn off Alexa and all the other systems in our household?
Olivier Blanchard: Yeah. So I draw a distinction between drones, which are predominantly outside. I don’t know that we have as much of an expectation of privacy on the street, in our front yard, in our vehicles, on the roads, on the sidewalk, as we do inside our homes. So I’m actually more concerned about privacy issues dealing with inside cameras and scanners. And even smart cameras and smart microphones even, than I am about drones.
I get the issue with drones. I understand why people are uncomfortable that drones doing fly-bys might capture images that you might not be aware of or that you might not be giving your consent to. But it’s not as much of a problem to me as the indoor cameras.
Fred McClimans: Well it’s interesting because recently, we spoke about this on a previous edition of the podcast. San Francisco has become one of the first cities to really put some constraints on how visual recordings and facial recognition technology can be employed by government entities throughout the city. And I think it’s a very positive step there. But we know that in countries like China where they have, for lack of a better word, weaponized or activated their visual and facial recognition capabilities throughout the cities there. They do have the ability to track people on a much closer basis than most people would expect or find acceptable for that.
I think from my perspective, when you start layering this on top of all the other data that we’re collecting, granted we have lower level of privacy expectation when we’re out in public. Certainly true. But if you think about the granularity of that surveillance, the police cars with the always on the camera systems, the drone now potentially flying overhead, identifying where you are. It’s perhaps not as significant as the E-ZPass that you have in your vehicle that tracks every time you go through a a highway toll gate there. But when you start adding all this technology up, all this surveillance up, I think this is one of those areas that it’s an intrusion. And I do think that we do have to draw a line here. Much like we do with gun control, at least we try to with gun control. Yes you have a right to possess a firearm, but you don’t have a right to possess a bazooka or a grenade launcher unchecked because it’s that extreme.
And I think the same situation is starting to occur here where we don’t mind people collecting our data and knowing where we are or what we’re potentially doing. But when it gets to the point of being so overbearing and so pervasive throughout our lives, I think we do have to step back and say as we start to have conversations about data privacy, as we start to look at some reasonable regulation in the US about what data can be captured, how long that data is kept, and how it might be monetized or used in the future. I think the same thing needs to apply to these type of visual surveillance systems. I could very easily see these getting out of control, unless if we’re unable to put some type of a check on that. And I haven’t seen anybody talking about anything like this. It really hasn’t been a topic that’s come up much.
Olivier Blanchard: Well, it’s weird because I think it’s a perception issue. On the one hand, yes. All this stuff makes me uncomfortable period. So I’m not disagreeing with anything you’re saying. But I think it’s interesting that we have a more visceral reaction to drones flying around following us. Surveillance by drone. When on a daily basis, 24,/7, we have devices with us that are constantly pinging. So the location of our device and our location by default, since we carry the device on our person, is always known. So our movements are tracked through our phone already 100% of the time, more so than they are by any squadron of surveillance drones that might be following us around. And yet, we’re not as shocked by that as we are by the possibility of having drones capture images or video of us.
These are the same devices whose microphones and cameras can be accessed remotely as well. So we’re carrying little surveillance microphones in our pocket all the time, and we’re worrying about drones. So I think there’s this weird kind of disconnect between the reality of the surveillance industry, which we’re already completely immersed in. And these outlying, more visual, I guess more obvious, but far less intrusive types of surveillance. And perhaps that’s why people aren’t reacting to this as much as you’d expect them to.
Fred McClimans: Well, we do have a certain expectation of privacy when we’re in our homes. We very willingly give that up in various ways with the Siri, and Alexa, and Cortana, and Hey Google and so forth. At the same time, those surveillance systems that we bring into our house, it’s by choice. When you think about a drone, a drone approaches things from a very different perspective, an up in the air perspective. And my backyard, I’m surrounded by trees. I’ve got fences on either side. When I have guests over and we sit around the fire pit in the back or we barbecue or toss the ball, or play with the dogs, there’s some expectation of some level of privacy in that personal space. This just completely destroys that.
And I know that there are a lot of communities that have put flight restrictions and restrictions in general on personal use of drones. You can’t take a drone and fly it alongside somebody’s house and peer in the window. But yet, that’s what we’re starting to see with this technology potentially coming to bear here.
And it’s not something that can be addressed on the personal level by talking to your neighbor. This is something that’s flying up in the sky hundreds of feet, perhaps a mile up in the sky with that ability to bird’s eye view down on you. And it is troubling to me.
Olivier Blanchard: Well, here’s the thought. And this might require a few iterations, but I think there’s also a little bit of a difference between surveillance and supervision. And in a way, the fact that we live in a surveillance economy to, I think we need a better term for it. Is something that we’ve all come to except already. I think there’s a certain amount of cynicism that’s taken over our general perception of tech. We realize privacy comes with an asterisk now.
I don’t know, I was listening to somebody, I can’t remember who it was this week talk about how over 50% of African Americans in the United States are under some kind of government supervision. What struck me was the use of the term supervision. It wasn’t super surveillance. It’s kind of like some form of, I don’t know, conditional release where the government is supervising you, that you’re where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And I think that’s actually a more pervasive form of surveillance than just surveillance as an abstraction. The thought that the government or any entity that has an inordinate amount of power over individuals, has the ability to supervise your activities. Not just surveil, not just take pictures, not just listen to you, but is adopting the role of a supervisor. To me it is something that’s ominous and that threatens the notion of liberty.
I know it’s just half a degree off from our surveillance conversation and it seems like semantics, but it triggered something in my mind that was a little bit different from what we usually talk about or the way that we usually talk about it anyway, if that makes sense.
Fred McClimans: No, it does make sense. I think that you can’t have true liberty unless you have some form of true privacy. Otherwise you’re living in the beehive or the anthill type of environment. That’s not liberty the way I think of it here.
So it is interesting here. Amazon does have as I mentioned in their patent filing, they do have a basic level mechanism for creating what they call excluded locations. Areas where it’s not supposed to be actually looking while it’s going to where it should be looking, drones should be looking there. But with this, I’ve got to challenge Amazon and Bezos to really open up and be transparent about this, and to take this as an opportunity to step forward.
Not just talk about how they maintain some level of privacy with the drone technology, but how they also weave this into all of the other aspects of surveilled data that’s being collected around us today.
And I would put it out there as a sort of a cautionary tale for brands and enterprises everywhere. On the one hand, while I give Amazon great props for coming up with this idea. The way a business that makes money is by being efficient and by having all of their assets available 100% of the time, and getting value out of those assets 100% of the time. And in the case of this here, Amazon has come up with a very interesting approach to say yes, we are in transit, but we’re going to get additional value out of that theoretical downtime, of the drones.
But at the same time, I would caution brands out there that just because you have the ability to capture more data and to monetize that data, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. We get back into that line where I don’t want to sound like I’m anti big tech because I’m not anti big tech, but this goes straight in that direction here.
I can see the break up big tech monopoly group out there really latching onto this as well as another item that we’re going to talk about here with Amazon in our tech bites segment a little bit later. But it just seems to me that we’re at that point where we do need to start having some serious conversations, and companies out there do need to start being a lot more proactive about, proactive and transparent about their privacy policies and data collection.
Olivier Blanchard: I don’t think it’s realistic tat they will be on their own. I think that’s why we need a privacy bill of rights for consumers similar to GDPR, but maybe even just a second generation version that doesn’t just focus on online data collection, but even just this cursory adjacent data collection that drones and other peripheral devices might be able to collect. We don’t have terms of service with the drone that flies by. There’s no way to give us any control over the relationship that we have with the device that we haven’t signed up to interact with. So I think that a privacy and a bill of rights needs to extend past data privacy. And actually it needs to include the types of privacy that we talked about on the segment.
Fred McClimans: I know with Google Maps globally, in some areas there is a requirement that if the Google Maps is picking up aspects of your private or personal life that should not be, or you would rather not be out there. Here’s the configuration of my backyard or what I’m doing in the backyard. Because we do know that you can see people in a lot of these Google Maps photographs here.
It is something that I think we do need to address. I’ll task Amazon to hopefully maybe take the lead on this and start to work with some of the other companies out there that are pushing their drone delivery systems, to proactively take the right step and start to figure out how they can collaborate with other businesses, with citizens, and with the government to ensure that we do have some semblance of privacy.
And I’ll put it back on our listeners and on the government as well to say we do need to have a conversation that redefines privacy in the United States. Because right now, that definition doesn’t look much like what it did 15 or 20 years ago.
So with that let’s wrap this segment. Olivier, thank you for your insights. I appreciate that. This was an unusual topic and something that just happened upon us. And I think it’s a worthy one that we’ll probably come back to again in the near future as this plays out here.
So now though, let us move on to our fast five segment of the podcast. Olivier, we’ve got five items that we think our listeners ought to know about this week. You’ve got three, I’ve got two. Kick it off. What’s your first fast five of the week?
Olivier Blanchard: My first fast five is actually about Google. Yeah. So I’m actually a fan of Google even though I just wrote a piece for VentureBeat that was a little bit critical of Google’s and the way it’s handling YouTube. It’s like I’m 80% happy with Google, 20% unhappy with Google. I get frustrated with them sometimes.
But I’m a fan of the Pixel line of products. My current phone is actually a Pixel, and I like it a lot. But we found out this week that Google will not be making any pixel tablets anymore, which I think is a shame and it’s sad. Google will be making Pixel phones still and Pixel laptops, but no more tablets. And this is also the part where we all discover that Google was making pixel tablets, which is the problem because they’re obviously not a very successful product.
And Google is probably right to kill that project, because nobody’s buying them.
Fred McClimans: I saw that across the wire. I didn’t dig too deep into it, but I thought I saw that they were having issues with the quality control. And given the state of their existing tablets languishing in the marketplace, I agree with that. That’s probably a good decision. The impact of this though, so they’re canceling this. Do you see this benefiting their laptop or more traditional computing device opportunity?
Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, I actually have a Pixelbook and I’m very happy with it. It’s a really good little laptop. I use it when I travel because it’s so lightweight and it has this crazy battery life, and it actually looks nice. But it doesn’t run all of the apps that I’d like it to.
But I think while the Pixelbook is a solid product and the Pixel phone is an amazing product, I don’t think there was really much of a need for a tablet. And my personal experience, and I don’t have any data to back this up right in front of me. But I’m seeing a lot more interest in the consumer market for hybrid devices as opposed to pure tablets, which is one of the reasons why folding or rather unfolding phones will be a success when companies finally get them to work and not break every five minutes. And why think that hybrid laptops that double as tablets are more, a better option or more popular with consumers. And especially when given the price, you don’t necessarily want to have a phone and a tablet, and a laptop. And because the Pixelbook is a small laptop that can fold out and double as a tablet, there was really no tablet to even exist.
Fred McClimans: So it sounds like the right move for Google and probably for the a consumer marketplace as well. So I’m going to follow your fast five on Google with my first fast five, also on Google.
So, we were talking about data earlier. Well, the data tables were turned on Google this week. There’s a company out there called genius.com and they are one of the premier providers of song lyrics in the marketplace today. When people go to Google and they do a quick search, and they’re looking for their favorite song lyric, that lyric usually comes sourced from genius.com. Google however, was accused by Genius a while back of actually lifting, pulling the content from its site, and displaying that content on the relevant search page for the user. In their eyes, they were making it easier for the consumer to get access to the lyrics, showing them what they would be looking at. In Genius’s mind however, what they were doing is they were keeping that user from actually clicking through and going to the Genius site and denying Genius the opportunity to monetize that click. But they couldn’t prove it, until this week.
So Genius came up with a really Genius strategy here. What they did is they started replacing the punctuation marks in their song lyrics. Sometimes they used a straight apostrophe, sometimes they used a curly apostrophe. And they did it with purpose. They actually used the apostrophes to create a morse code message embedded into the lyrics. And low and behold, they have now gone back, looked at everything that Google has been displaying and said, “Look, there’s our lyrics and there’s our morse code embedded into the lyrics.” So it’s a sort of an interesting twist, a comical one here.
Olivier Blanchard: That’s clever.
Fred McClimans: It all comes back to data and a kudos to Genius for being a genius in this particular case. So Olivier, take us through to your second fast five. What’s going on in Europe and Facebook?
Olivier Blanchard: Well yeah, my second, I guess our third fast five for this week is about Facebook and its new cryptocurrency Libra, which is being announced to mixed reviews or mixed reception. But one particular group of individuals that’s focusing pretty extensively on Libra not just to be snarky and to criticize it, is a group of European central bankers who are looking into Libra and the possibility that it might be used for money laundering.
I still don’t completely understand what the point of Libra is or why anyone would want to use it. I’ve heard the arguments, but they just don’t really resonate with me. They don’t make any sense. But obviously whenever you’re talking about cryptocurrencies, there’s a risk of money laundering and dark money. Not just in the United States and around the world, but specifically in Europe, I think are going to be a pretty significant challenge. These central bankers I think are just at the tip of the iceberg. And I hope Facebook is ready for this fight because it’s not going to be easy.
Fred McClimans: No, it’s an interesting battle. And I think it brings back that the question that a lot of people, including myself were asking. Every time we see a company launch their own crypto coin, their own currency, you have to step back and ask the question why? Is this actually solving a problem that the marketplace is having? And is this the best way to potentially solve that?
For Facebook, hey, it’s all about being involved in that transaction and finding another way to skim a few a cents off every transaction here. But-
Olivier Blanchard: Do you know what my first experience with cryptocurrencies was?
Fred McClimans: No. I’m dying to find out.
Olivier Blanchard: Chuck E. Cheese.
Fred McClimans: Chuck E. Cheese. Yes. Those blasted little gold coins. Pseudo gold coins.
Olivier Blanchard: For Chuck E. Cheese it made sense. But for Facebook, I’m not sure.
Fred McClimans: How would you consider that a cryptocurrency? I would consider it an alternative token perhaps.
Olivier Blanchard: Okay, sure. We can, yeah. You’re not wrong. It was a branded in-app money, the app being the store, the physical location. But you traded your dollars for tokens for their own currency. And that was the only thing that you could use [crosstalk] branded cryptocurrencies for Facebook or whomever. I always think back to Chuck E. Cheese and think these guys, they didn’t invent it, but they were the first ones to really scale the concept of trade in your dollars for our fake money.
Fred McClimans: Yeah. I have these visions of kids sitting around the Chuck E. Cheese table arguing over who gets the last slice of pizza. And one kid say, “I’ll give you a couple of Chuck E. tokens.” And I do have to admit, I’m not a big fan of Chuck E. Cheese. That giant mouse thing. For years, he was nicknamed Ricky Rat around our house.
But anyway, so my second fast five, our fourth fast five of the day here as we move through the show here, let’s just call this one the law of unintended but not unexpected consequences. As we know, the US and China are in this protracted legal and trade battle back and forth. We know that Huawei has been caught in the middle of this, perhaps even sparking a good bit of it.
And recently, the United States made moves to cut Huawei off from US technology. And that includes the android operating system that Huawei uses in its mobile phones. So no big surprise here. It came out this week that apparently Huawei is looking to initiate talks with the Russia’s communications ministry about potentially using Russia’s Avrora operating system in its mobile phones.
So interesting twist here. I don’t know much about that particular operating system, about its strength, its weaknesses, and so forth. But I do know that when you have a trade battle like we have ongoing here, people will find alternative sources for the technology they need. And in this case, the unintended consequences of this battle may end up being that Huawei and other companies out there find alternative non-US sources for their technology.
So this is a certainly one that’s not unexpected, but I think it’s definitely one worth watching. Especially as I expect to see similar things happen with other technical elements that the US produces, that may no longer be available or may be the least preferred choice or highest priced item for Chinese companies to move forward.
And not just limited to China. Because this week in response to the US levying tariffs against India, India has responded in turn and started to levy tariffs on US goods flowing into that country.
So please Olivier, take us home with our final fast five. And let’s talk about the iPhone and Terry Gou and Taiwan. What’s going on?
Olivier Blanchard: Yeah. Speaking of tariff and trade wars. So Terry Gou, who I always get his name wrong. It’s spelled goo, but I think it’s Gou. Who was the Foxconn founder and chairman, and has recently retired from that role. Is running for president of Taiwan. You may have noticed this week that one of his … I guess it’s not really a campaign strategy. But one of his rallying calls for his relevance to Taiwan and for his economic plan is to try to leverage the US China trade war to bring, or to convince Apple to move some of its operations or to move some of its production out of China and into Taiwan. Which would be I think an actual solid idea for Apple. A solid idea for a lot of other US tech companies that are facing uncertainty with regards to what’s going to happen with China. And it would be a tremendous opportunity I think for the economy in Taiwan.
Yeah. So I thought it was interesting. It’s not the biggest, most obvious news out there. But given the state of our trade wars with China and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome, I think it’s interesting that Taiwan and especially somebody who had so much clout, Foxconn, is now making a pretty good argument that US tech companies should move some of their production from China into Taiwan. And I think that for someone running for president of Taiwan, that’s a really good economic message. That’s something that we’ll keep track of and something that everybody should be aware of. They could have significant impacts on where things go from here between US tech, China and Taiwan.
Fred McClimans: The other interesting aspect of that, Olivier, is that China still considers Taiwan to be a somewhat semi-autonomous region under the control of greater China, along with Hong Kong and Macau. So I think this is just going to amp up that aspect of this political battle as well. If this does take place, China will look at it and say, “Come on, it’s still China.” And who knows what the US administration will do. We’ve gone back and forth with saying, “Taiwan is its own nation,” to saying, “Yes, we respect the one China.” So we’ll have to see how that plays out.
So now though, we’re done with our fast fives. Let’s talk quickly about our tech bites winner of the week. Now this is Amazon this week again. They have I think probably the record moving forward into our tech bites segment. But this one doesn’t actually have anything to do with drones. This is a little bit different here. When you go on to Amazon site, and I’m a big shopper of an Amazon. I’m a Prime member and I leverage the Prime benefits everywhere from free shipping, to Amazon music and video, to Whole Foods. But when you go onto the website, you see these little recommendation tags here, these Amazon’s choice alongside certain products if you’re searching for something. I just replaced a capacitor in the air conditioning unit outside our home. And when I’m searching, low and behold, there’s a couple of items that appear up at the top. Amazon’s choice.
You would think that that is a recommendation for the product, that it is a good product, that it is the correct product and the best buy that you can possibly get. And if you thought that, you would actually be incorrect. It turns out that the Amazon’s choice isn’t really the best choice for you, but it’s the choice that Amazon hopes you will make.
When they started the offering back in 2015, they said it was, “A way to simplify shopping for customers by highlighting highly rated, well priced products.” And here’s the important part, “Ready to ship immediately for the most popular searches on Amazon.” So what we’re really looking at here is an issue of trust with Amazon. I don’t know how often you shop on Amazon Olivier, but there are a lot of people who do on a daily basis. An interesting article in Buzzfeed this week brought that issue to light with some really interesting examples of people who relied upon Amazon’s choice thinking it was the best product, and it turned out not to be. So how often do you shop on Amazon? Come on, be truthful.
Olivier Blanchard: Well, I shop on Amazon quite a bit.
Fred McClimans: Do you ever buy the Amazon’s choice recommendation?
Olivier Blanchard: No, never. No, what I tend to do when I’m on Amazon and I’m reading reviews, I’ll read the top reviews and I’ll read the worst reviews. So anything that’s got five stars, anything that’s got one star. And usually, you get a pretty good sense of first of all, which ones are fake reviews. On the positive and on the negative side.
Sometimes there’s fake negative reviews of people just trying to just sync a product or a book because they hate it or whatever. But when you start getting into more substantial complaints or raving reviews that are like, “This is what I really liked about it,” then then you start getting a pretty complete picture. But as far as just like looking at the stars, at the ratings and just like the superficial, “Yeah, I love it. You should buy this.” I tend to filter those out. I look for the specific complaints and favorite things about items.
Fred McClimans: Well, you are a good shopper for doing that. I think the phrase is the more you know. Or what was it, Sy Syms who said an educated consumer is our best customer. And if you are listening in and you’re shopping on Amazon, educate yourself. Olivier, I like your approach there on that. Look at the reviews, read what other people are actually saying. And just remember that just because it’s Amazon’s choice, doesn’t mean it should be your choice.
So with that Olivier, let’s wrap this show up with our crystal ball prediction here. We talked earlier at the beginning of the show about Amazon’s recently awarded patents for their surveillance as a service, levering their drones to surveil your premises while you are not around. The question for you today in our crystal ball is do you actually think that Amazon will turn this into a commercially available offering? And if so, when?
Olivier Blanchard: Yes, I do. I think that Amazon can turn to anything that can be monetized into a successful business. So if Facebook is able to convince companies and agencies or whomever wants to create these services or buy into these services as a big mother type of technology use as opposed to a big brother technology use. So exactly the same technology, but with benevolence intentions as opposed to malicious intentions, then I think they’ll be able to do that. Now in terms of when that might actually turn into something, I think it could start in the next year, year and a half. I could see how private security firms might start trying to productize this for their clients. And I think that once they do, it could definitely go into the mainstream.
Fred McClimans: I agree with you that I believe that this is a service that actually has some solid revenue potential and some solid synergy with what Amazon is doing. So I would not be at all surprised to see that materialize.
Given that Amazon still has not received approval for its drone fleet for delivery services yet in the US, I think it’s a little bit out, but I would not be surprised to see that approval and drone services in 2019. As for this surveillance as a service offering, I actually think it’s probably gotten more applicability and more acceptability as a service for commercial enterprises, rather than residential. I know they’re big plays, the prime customer in the residential offering and the home security and the Ring and all that stuff. But I think it probably makes a bit more sense to start with commercial properties. It could certainly use a little bit of extra surveillance out there.
Olivier Blanchard: Well I think there’s also another option here, which is not the private sector, which is selling that information to municipalities, to states, to government agencies. So on the one hand you have law enforcement, which is a pretty simple one. But you also have the impact that these drones can have on monitoring traffic for instance, or other types of like crowds and activity.
So I think that there are commercial applications for the data that these drones collect that go more into the smart city type environment as opposed to security and private firms. So I would look to the government sector as a major client first for Google, I mean for Amazon.
Fred McClimans: You had perhaps a little Freudian slip there. All right, excellent. Olivier, thank you very much for your wisdom and insights on this edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast. I would like to thank our listeners, our loyal listeners. Thank you very much for listening every week. Please keep sending us your comments, your feedback.
We’d love to hear from you. What you’re thinking, what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you might want us to cover moving forward into the future.
So for Olivier, for our missing cohost, Daniel Newman, I’m Fred McClimans, thanking you for listening to this edition of FTP, the Futurum Tech Podcast. There will be plenty of more tech topics and tech conversations right here. Please be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes. Join us, become part of our community. We would love to hear from you. Check us out at futurumresearch.com. We’ll see you later.
Fred studied engineering and music at Syracuse University. A frequent author and speaker, Fred has served as a guest lecturer at the George Mason University School of Business (Porter: Information Systems and Operations Management), keynoted the Colombian Associación Nacional De Empressarios Sourcing Summit, served as an executive committee member of the Intellifest International Conference on Reasoning (AI) Technologies, and has spoken at #SxSW on trust in the digital economy. His analysis and commentary has appeared through venues such as Cheddar TV, Adotas, CNN, Social Media Today, Seeking Alpha, Talk Markets, and Network World (IDG).