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Amazon has, this week, revealed the first smartphone designed by the online retail giant in the shape of the Amazon Fire. Described by the company as featuring "two new breakthrough technologies that allow you to see and interact with the world through a whole new lens" and by some others as probably "the biggest single invasion of your privacy for commercial purposes ever."

The innovations that have led to these two rather different takes are Dynamic Perspective and the Firefly Button. The first, Amazons informs us, is a sensor system that will respond to the way the user holds, views and moves which in turn will enable an experience unlike any other smartphone. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos attempts to explain exactly what this means saying that the sensors will recognise where the user's head is relative to the device and that information can then be used to "offer customers a more immersive experience, one-handed navigation, and gestures that actually work." Sorry Jeff, but that explanation still fails to either explain what it can really do or why I'd want it to do that in the first place. Maybe that's why Amazon is also making a Dynamic Perspective SDK available to developers, along with the Firefly SDK, and Bezos says Amazon "can’t wait to see how developers surprise us." So it looks like Amazon doesn't really know what it's for either.

Unlike Firefly, which is much more cut and dried; although many people are not going to like the what does that do then explanation methinks. The Amazon marketing spiel is that Firefly "quickly recognizes things in the real world" such as web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, movies, music and millions of actual products "and lets you take action in seconds." So you press the Firefly button and you can buy stuff from Amazon is, essentially, the bottom line.

John Koetsier, writing for Venture Beat, has a slightly different take. While admitting the device is an impressive piece of kit, combining hardware such as a 3D screen with those dynamic sensors that allow your perspective to move as you do (ah, so maybe that's what it is for) and the Firefly component an equally impressive mix of hardware, software and cloud power, he's a tad concerned at how the latter does what it does.

"How do you think it recognizes those things, including text on images, for which Amazon says it will offer language translation features later this year?" Koetsier asks. He then goes on to reply with a suggestion that when you use Firefly you are using the camera, and turning on audio sensors to record ambient sound. All of which is then transferred to the Amazon cloud for processing and storage. This, he ponders, will give Amazon "unprecedented insight into who you are, what you own, where you go, what you do, who’s important in your life, what you like, and, probably, what you might be most likely to buy." And that, dear reader, could be one of the more disturbing aspects of owning a smartphone replete with breakthrough technologies. Indeed, it sounds to me like the technologies are breaking right through the privacy barrier.

Of course, the functionality that the Amazon Fire phone will deliver is always going to be a trade off between ease of use and privacy concerns and that is a choice for the purchaser to make. I just hope they are aware of what they are getting into before jumping onto this particular consumerist bandwagon.

Amazon insists that, actually, the camera app is separate from Firefly so no personal photos will be delivered to the cloud for use by the Firefly system. Although they are stored in a separate Amazon cloud account of course. Further, Amazon has confirmed that all the Firefly data (photos and audio recordings) can be deleted from the system whenever you want. Until and unless you do that, though, they remain available for the Firefly server farms to process, analyse and enhance the recognition system.

I'm not so sure I'd go as far as Koetsier in describing the technology as an NSA wet dream, but it sure does look like a method of getting ever increasing amounts of ever so valuable meta data which becomes, in turn, big data that is there to help deliver all sorts of targeted marketing into your palm to me. If that's what you want from your phone, then good for you. Me? I don't think I will be buying into this particular technological 'advance' thank you very much. With privacy an increasingly rare commodity, I get the feeling that what we have left of it is being sold down the river in exchange for a 5% off digital discount coupon...

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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Last Post by expertmagician
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What makes you think than any other smart phone is safe ?

Smart phones are probably just short of implanting everyone with RFID chips :-)

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