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Why you shouldn't buy the Amazon Fire phone

Mike Elgan | June 24, 2014
It's the most effective device ever sold for harvesting the personal data from its owner

Amazon launched a new smartphone this week. It's called the Amazon Fire phone, and it sports some unique hardware, software and services.

The public has zeroed in on some of the "wow!" features, including a 3D-like interface and the ability to recognize everything from famous works of art to TV shows to random products.

The pundits have detailed the utility of these very features to Amazon for the purpose of "showrooming" -- encountering media and products in the real world, using the Fire phone's sensors to recognize them, then using the convenient "buy" button to get those products from Amazon.

I'm here to detail a third dimension, if you will, to the Amazon Fire phone -- it's the most effective device ever sold for harvesting the personal data from its owner. Let's break this down.


Firefly recognizes things. It uses either the phone's camera or microphone to collect your data, which is then uploaded to a remote server, processed, and the results returned to you.

Firefly is presented as a single feature. In fact, it's a well-packaged collection of software and services that exist elsewhere on other platforms in a scattershot, disjointed form. It works like a combination of the Google Goggles app, which can recognize products via the camera, plus Google Now, which can recognize songs and TV shows via a phone's microphone.

One difference is that the Fire phone has a dedicated Firefly button which, when pressed, activates both camera and microphone to recognize whatever it can. Another is that if that object or content is available on Amazon, the phone will facilitate your purchase of it.

You can point the Fire phone's camera at a book you see in a bookstore window, press the Firefly button, and in a few seconds that book will likely be displayed on your screen with a "buy" button. Firefly can recognize movie posters, games and even songs and TV shows, which it determines by processing the sound coming in to the Fire phone's microphone.

It's not just about commerce. Firefly can recognize phone numbers for one-tap dialing, works of art and even QR codes.

The database can recognize 100 million objects, according to Amazon.

Here's a shocking fact about Firefly: When the Firefly button is pressed, a picture and audio clip plus GPS coordinates are all uploaded to Amazon's servers every time. Amazon retains the data on their servers.

If you want it to recognize a song, it still uploads a picture. If you want to recognize a product, it still uploads an audio clip. What is promoted as a user benefit (one-button for recognizing anything) is in fact the opening of a window to let Amazon into your life (which users have already granted permission for).


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