The clamour around the official arrival of Amazon’s spanking new Fire Phone has been understandably heady.
Tech-watchers and hardcore fans have been bowled over by the device’s stellar spec sheet that takes in a fancy new camera, swish 3D head-tracking smarts and breezy interface, which mirrors that of its Kindle Fire tablets.
But there’s one feature that really stands out, head and shoulders above the crowd: Firefly.
This smart, new recognition tool uses the device’s camera and a dedicated Firefly button to take pictures and record audio to help you buy consumer durables you espy or songs that you hear while you’re out and about.
That could be a new camera, a new football shirt or the latest tune you’ve just heard on the radio.
On the face of it, that sounds pretty cool. But there’s a major snag.
The pictures and sound you record using Firefly are stored on Amazon’s servers, allowing it to then sell back to you the products it thinks you will want.
It’s an approach that’s taking targeted advertising to a whole new level. And in a sop to ease people’s uneasiness about the process, Amazon has included a way to delete Firefly files manually.
This is easy on the device (just swipe up and clear your history), but clearing your data from the cloud sounds harder.
Amazon’s own Firefly explainer on its website states: “You can delete Firefly images and audio stored in the Cloud that are currently associated with your Amazon account by visiting the Manage Your Content and Devices page on Amazon.com.
“You also can contact customer service.”
That sounds suspiciously light on detail. You should be able to dump data from the cloud via your device, end of story.
Using your data to sell you stuff is Amazon’s number-one concern (it’s a retailer first and foremost, don’t forget). The fancy phone is just a way of facilitating that.
Of course, cookies on smartphones and PCs have been doing this for some time, but this is a whole new level of personal data that you’re handing over.
Users who play with Firefly with impunity could well find themselves delivering reams of personal information to Amazon. Are we really happy with such a move?
Some will say they don’t mind this level of intrusion and that they trust Amazon to look after their data.
But should we even be giving them all this personal information in the first place?
We seem to have become so blasé about what we tell tech companies in a desperate bid for personalised services.
We ignore warnings about security breaches and pay little heed to endless stories of the collusion of the biggest tech firms with the likes of GCHQ and the NSA.
Of course, on a basic level the Fire Phone looks like a winner. You’re getting plenty thrown in for that $199 asking price.
But essentially, that price is the cost of you telling Jeff Bezos all about your life, so that he can make a quick buck off of you.
Are we really happy to do that just so we can buy things wherever we are?
If so, we need to take a long, hard look at where we want this kind of technology to go.
Letting Amazon and others continue unchecked is surely not the way forward.