The Rise of ‘Luxury Surveillance’

An illustration showing the outline of a person walking, with various parts of their body "tracked" by Amazon devices - Tyler Comrie / The Atlantic

The Rise of ‘Luxury Surveillance’
The Atlantic, October 18, 2022
By Chris Gilliard

“Surveillance isn’t just imposed on people: Many of us buy into it willingly.”


Imagine, for a moment, the near future Amazon dreams of.


Every morning, you are gently awakened by the Amazon Halo Rise. From its perch on your nightstand, the round device has spent the night monitoring the movements of your body, the light in your room, and the space’s temperature and humidity. At the optimal moment in your sleep cycle, as calculated by a proprietary algorithm, the device’s light gradually brightens to mimic the natural warm hue of sunrise. Your Amazon Echo, plugged in somewhere nearby, automatically starts playing your favorite music as part of your wake-up routine. You ask the device about the day’s weather; it tells you to expect rain. Then it informs you that your next “Subscribe & Save” shipment of Amazon Elements Super Omega-3 softgels is out for delivery. On your way to the bathroom, a notification bubbles up on your phone from Amazon’s Neighbors app, which is populated with video footage from the area’s Amazon Ring cameras: Someone has been overturning garbage cans, leaving the community’s yards a total wreck. (Maybe it’s just raccoons.)


Standing at the sink, you glance at the Amazon Halo app, which is connected to your Amazon Halo fitness tracker. You feel awful, which is probably why the wearable is analyzing your tone of voice as “low energy” and “low positivity.” Your sleep score is dismal. After your morning rinse, you hear the Amazon Astro robot chasing your dog, Fred, down the hallway; you see on the Astro’s video feed that Fred is gnawing on your Amazon Essentials athletic sneaker. Your Ring doorbell sounds. The pills have arrived.


It would be a bit glib—and more than a little clichéd—to call this some kind of technological dystopia. Actually, dystopia wouldn’t be right, exactly: Dystopian fiction is generally speculative, whereas all of these items and services are real. At the end of September, Amazon announced a suite of tech products in its move toward “ambient intelligence,” which Amazon’s hardware chief, Dave Limp, described as technology and devices that slip into the background but are “always there,” collecting information and taking action against it.



The difference between a smartwatch and an ankle monitor is, in many ways, a matter of context: Who wears one for purported betterment, and who wears one because they are having state power enacted against them?

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About the Author:

Chris Gilliard is a Just Tech Fellow at the Social Science Research Council.