GeekWire Health Tech
GeekWire Health Tech

Halo Effect: Amazon, privacy, and the future of health

30 minutes Posted Jan 21, 2021 at 4:09 pm.
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GeekWire editor Todd Bishop: A few weeks ago, I started wearing a new health band. It regularly eavesdrops on my side of conversations, and it has a lot of opinions about them.

“You had three phrases that sounded annoyed, irritated or disgusted," a section in the app reported on a recent evening, recapping my daily interactions. Not only that, but I had "one phrase that sounded stubborn or condescending.”

Another feature invites me to strip down to my underwear for a picture.

"Find a well-lit area and try to avoid light from behind," a voice from the app instructed me as it prepared to conduct a high-tech, 3D body scan. "Change into minimal clothing so the camera can see your body.”

Yes, as you might have guessed by now, this is the Amazon Halo band and subscription service, part of the tech giant’s big move into health and wellness.

Thanks to its revelations, I am now painfully aware of my tone of voice, and more empathetic toward my family and friends who have to put up with me. I've informed the Amazon team of a feature request from my wife, who would like to receive an emailed report on my tone of voice at the end of each day.

As for the body scan, let's just say this is one image that I won't be publishing with this story, and you're welcome.

You might have seen reviews of Halo. The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler and Heather Kelly wrote that it “collects the most intimate information we’ve seen from a consumer health gadget — and makes the absolute least use of it.”

Based on my own experience, I agree with the first point, but not the second. Yes, Halo pushes the limits of my comfort zone at times. I have yet to get the motivation to take a second body scan after the first experience. But I have also started to rely on several of the features, including the in-depth sleep analysis and the tone assessment — two big areas where I personally have lots of room for improvement. 

The band is comfortable to wear, and the programs in the app are useful. Just this week I boosted my time in deep sleep after doing a recommended progressive muscle relaxation exercise available in the Halo app before bed.

And despite concerns from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others about the personal data Halo collects, I've found Amazon to be transparent about what it's doing, and clear in enabling me as the user to choose to participate, or not, in the more invasive aspects of the app. Yet Amazon could be doing even more to build trust.

On this episode of the GeekWire Health Tech Podcast, we explore the future of health — and test the limits of personal privacy — through Amazon’s new health band and service. We talk with the principal medical officer on the Amazon Halo team to get the inside details on what the company is doing, and we hear an outside assessment of Amazon’s privacy and security promises from an independent expert.

Episode edited and produced by Josh Kerns of Cypress Point Strategic Communications.

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