Keep your Amazon Halo away from my delicious body fat
Another day, another stupid fitness band.
There’s this misnomer floating around between tech companies and consumers that purports the idea that tech companies give a shit about our health in some manner. With things like Fitbit, Apple Health, and other fitness trackers, there is this sense that tech companies are invested in our overall well-being. Well, that’s just bullshit. These are products created to appeal to our insecurities, designed to collect data and sell us stuff and nothing makes that clearer more than the Amazon Halo.
This is a device that didn’t even seek FDA Clearance (a weak stamp of approval that many fitness tech products seek in order to layer on some sort of false validity) and is not a medical device as stated by Amazon. This is a toy, a data-gathering toy, created by a retailer that (while making most of its money from AWS) rules the world through inferior labor practices and selling us stuff. The Amazon Halo is another invasive way to gather demographic data and tailor recommendations.
It can’t be denied that products like Apple Health (and Watch) have literally saved lives, that’s not what the Amazon Halo brings to the table. This $99.99 wrist band is focused on overall health and lifestyle, not fitness. But the way it wants to go about that is a reason not to buy it, unless you are already comfortable with Amazon nudging in on your personal life.
Amazon has already told me (probably more than once) that it doesn’t design its products to always be listening or always be tracking, but I’m way too cynical to just take that at face value. That’s beside the point but speaks to my feelings about the Halo, a device that uses your camera to create 3D scans for body fat and your microphone to listen for the emotion in your voice.
Those are two of the selling points of the Amazon Halo
It will tell you how fat you are (because body image is totally not something people stress about, to the point of contemplating suicide) and it will track your emotional state of being during the day. It also tracks cardio, sleep, and focuses on habits like meditation. To its credit, Halo uses machine learning to guess your body fat percentage rather than BMI because BMI is a shit measurement. But do we really want to give Amazon near-naked pictures of ourselves along with a psychological profile based on our tone of voice?
Again, Amazon will say that none of this data is being used to sell you a goddamn thing. It told The Verge (in a very comprehensive write-up) that the visual and audio data will only hit the servers temporarily to render the 3D scan, but be stored locally. Data can be deleted at any point by users and it’s not tied to Amazon Prime accounts. The body fat feature is also not available to users under 18 but you know kids will figure it out anyway. Data may be shared with third parties though, but only as anonymous aggregate info, which is fairly normal.
It’s a comprehensive little toy that touches on a lot of areas of personal well-being and will operate through partnerships called “labs” within the app to advise you of a “better” lifestyle. While it doesn’t explicitly say so, this is an entertainment product as are most fitness trackers. We don’t need them (though some will rightfully laud the motivational aspect of such toys) and they are gimmicks, like folding phones and tablets with built-in projectors.
I’m not as worried about the psychological impacts of kids getting into the body fat scanning, those affected by it are likely already dealing with some bullshit from their peers. Rather I’m worried that the Amazon Halo will be taken seriously as some sort of health and lifestyle device, that we’ll once again turn away from ourselves and to a tech company to get into our heads and “improve” our lifestyle. We shouldn’t need a tech company for that. The Halo, and devices like it, should be viewed as complementary to a path we’re already on, or at least contemplating. An accessory, not a need.
The data here is more than just basic demographics, it’s two things (emotional state and body fat) that hit people the hardest. Having constant reminders of these things within an app could be detrimental, but at the same time, that’s on you, buddy. It’s still a choice to delve into these personal issues and if you are already dealing with psychological pain related to either, then this accessory is not for you. Be a goddamn adult and don’t blame the tech company when you always have a choice.
All that aside, it’s an interesting move by Amazon to enter the fitness band market. The Halo has no screen on the device and relies solely on the app. It doesn’t encourage anything less than weekly check-ins, which is kind of refreshing. I like the sleep tracking feature as I have found that useful in the past because that’s one point of the day when I can’t tell what is going on. Assuming it really doesn’t store any data or use it for targeted marketing, the Amazon Halo is a good alternative to fitness trackers that are always on and make us feel like we have to be always on.
Outside of the location data on my smartphone, I’m against anything that provides more demographic data to a tech company (no smart home stuff, etc.) even if it’s not being used to sell me ads. I know this won’t hold true for the next generation of tech users, as smart tech will become more and more invasive to the point of implants and full human integration with the cloud. But that’s a rant for another day. Today, the Amazon Halo is just another cute fitness toy that reaches into our buckets of self-loathing to show us how dirty our hearts are.
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