Should Amazon Be Able To Unlock Your Front Door?

Amazon announced a new service a few weeks ago that has resulted in a lot of jokes and commentary around the Internet. It’s called Amazon Key, and it’s a way to make package delivery better for you by allowing Amazon’s couriers to unlock your front door and set packages inside.

It’s easy to see why this would be a controversial service. Some people love the idea of having their packages dropped off inside the house, while others see this as an enormous security and privacy issue. I’m going to talk through the issue a bit and try to help you figure out what your thoughts are on Amazon Key.

What Is Amazon Key?

So first, what exactly is this new service? As described in the news articles announcing it, Amazon Key is intended to allow Amazon’s couriers to temporarily gain access to your home to put delivered packages inside. The service consists of two products: a smart lock and an Internet-connected camera. When the courier arrives at your house, they press a button in an app. This triggers the camera to start recording and then unlocks the smart lock. The courier places the package inside, closes the door, and presses another button on the app to lock the door.

After the fact, you receive a notification that your package was delivered, along with a short video clip showing the process. In theory, this allows you to monitor the courier and make sure they didn’t poke around in your house while they were inside. It’s intended to be quick and simple, giving you a way to have your packages secured against being stolen from your doorstep.

Package Theft Is A Real Problem

A lot of news articles have played up the convenience aspect of the Key service, but I don’t think the main focus of this is convenience. For most homeowners, it’s not too inconvenient to step onto the porch to pick up a package. I imagine with this service, the courier will just be setting the delivery directly inside the door, so it’s not saving you much effort in carrying the package. Instead, the goal of Amazon Key seems to be to prevent packages from being stolen.

Package theft is a real problem that a lot of homeowners have to deal with. As many of us do more and more of our shopping online, it’s not uncommon to have a box with hundreds of dollars of products sitting on your porch all day while you’re at work. And while you may or may not live in a neighborhood where a package could get stolen from the porch, many people do. And even if you’re a security-minded person and have a camera watching your porch, it’s going to be a pain if something gets stolen. The police will probably help if you have a clear shot of the thief’s face, but they aren’t going to go immediately track him down and get your items back. No one wants to deal with having a package stolen.

Amazon Key offers a clear solution to this problem. By allowing the courier to put the package inside your house, you’re eliminating the problem of casual package theft. In that sense, Key is great. It’s using technology to make your life easier and better. If you’ve ever had a package stolen from your porch, you have a good reason to be excited about this service.

Giving Amazon A Key To Your Home

Of course, there’s a downside to using Amazon Key. That downside is that you’re giving one of the largest corporations in the world permission and access to enter your home. Unlike having a trusted friend drop by your house to let the dog out or put a package inside, you’re giving permission for a stranger from Amazon to step inside your house. A lot of people won’t accept that.

Of course, Amazon’s answer to these security and privacy concerns is the cloud-connected camera that is an integral part of the Key system. The insurance against a courier gaining entry to your home and abusing that privilege is that Amazon’s camera is recording their actions. They require that you install the camera facing your front door, so the idea is that Amazon can keep an eye on the couriers and have evidence if anything goes wrong.

From my own experience, Amazon does have a positive track record of helping customers when one of their employees or contractors does something wrong. I had an issue where a courier haphazardly tossed a fragile package onto my porch, and Amazon was quick to make things right for me. For Amazon Key to work, you have to trust that Amazon is looking out for your best interest.

Can You Trust Amazon?

And so that’s really the main question you have to answer if you want to use Amazon Key. You aren’t being asked to trust individual couriers, because Amazon has an answer for that with their cloud-connected camera. But you do have to trust Amazon the corporation. After all, the cloud camera solution is basically Amazon saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll watch ourselves to make sure we don’t do anything wrong.”

Personally, I think it’s dangerous to assume that Amazon has your best interest in mind at all times. They’re running a business, and you’re a customer, so you are important to them. But they’re a corporation, and their first responsibility is to themselves and their shareholders. While they might intend to look out for their customers’ safety and security, it’s at least possible that there could be a situation where they wouldn’t.

Amazon’s most critical asset is not individual customers, but rather its reputation. If a situation came up where Amazon would hurt its reputation by showing evidence of something that occurred during a Key delivery, Amazon would have a choice to make about whether to reveal that information. It’d be a balance between maintaining their public reputation and upholding good corporate ethics. I’d like to be able to trust Amazon, but I feel like it’s not that big of a leap to imagine a situation where they would need to protect themselves over protecting a customer.

A Life Of Services

When I first heard about Amazon Key, I had a strong negative reaction to it, but only partially because of what I just described. The other thing that is concerning about the service is that it feels like it could just be the first step in a larger movement. Every company these days wants to sell you a service to make your life easier. From curbside grocery pickup to in-home package delivery, there’s a service with a subscription fee for all of your daily chores.

Some might say this sounds like the future, where you don’t have to take care of daily tasks because they’re handled for you. But the problem is that if you live with these services for long enough, you become beholden to the company that provides them. If you don’t own a car, you probably rely on rideshare services like Uber. If you pay for a lawn service, you may not have your own lawn-care tools. You quickly start to get into a position where you’re more-or-less forced to pay for these services to function in society.

So the greatest concern with Amazon Key is that it’s giving Amazon a literal foothold into your home. By giving them access to your house, you’re communicating to them that you trust them and that you’re willing to allow them inside your private living space. The promise of the Key service is innocuous enough, but I doubt Amazon will be stopping with just package delivery.

The Tradeoff Between Privacy And Convenience

This is clearly a complicated issue. It’s a classic tradeoff between privacy and convenience. Amazon Key sounds like a privacy nightmare with random couriers entering your home, but it also sounds really convenient to not have to worry about packages being stolen from the porch. We all make these tradeoffs every day.

Every time you use a banking website or upload a new batch of pictures to Google Photos, you’re choosing convenience over privacy. By reading this blog, you’re giving up privacy for convenience–I can probably find your IP address if I dig through enough server logs, so if you really want to be secretive, you’ll have to get all of your news from paper media. There’s a line somewhere, and it’s unfortunately impossible to maintain a completely private life these days.

But every now and then you’re faced with a privacy/convenience decision that somehow feels larger than the little choices you make every day. I think this is one of those times, because I think Amazon Key is only the first of a new wave of services we’ll see that promise to make your life easier in exchange for a larger piece of your privacy. You know how I feel about it, but you have to make your own decision about how you’ll view these services. I won’t try to tell you that my answer is the right answer, because it might not be the right answer for you. But I would encourage you to give it some serious thought.

Don’t blindly accept the promise of services like Amazon Key without carefully considering what they are asking of you and what they offer in return. Maybe it will end up being worth it to you, and maybe it won’t, but it’s something you have to think about. Welcome to life in the 21st century.

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