Amazon’s Drop In basically turns Apple FaceTime bug into a feature [Opinion]


facebook eavesdropping microphone
Smart speakers are microphones that other people can listen to.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

You know the Apple FaceTime bug that everyone’s going crazy about? It’s a huge screwup, for sure, but at least we know it’s just a bug. Being able to call someone and eavesdrop on their conversations without them knowing is clearly a privacy nightmare, which is why Apple disabled Group FaceTime until it can issue a proper fix.

Amazon, on the other hand, offers silent eavesdropping as a feature for its Echo speakers. It’s called Drop In, and if you’ve enabled it, you should probably turn it off.

EavesDrop In

The Amazon Echo Drop In lets you eavesdrop on friends and family.
The Echo’s Drop In feature lets you eavesdrop on friends and family.
Photo: Amazon

Update 02/04/19 an earlier version of this post said that the Echo doesn’t sound an audio alert when Drop In is activated. That has been corrected.

Here’s Digital Trends’ Brie Barbee describing Drop In last year:

Drop In … allows users to drop in on their friends’ and family members’ Echo devices unexpectedly. This feature is different from your standard voice call because it allows you to connect to a device automatically, assuming you have access and the person on the other end hasn’t muted the feature.

You must enable the feature for it to work, so this won’t let you “eavesdrop in” on any arbitrary Echo. But once it’s set, you can Drop In on any enabled Echo without warning. At least the FaceTime bug causes the target iPhone or iPad to ring first. Drop In just turns a light on your Echo green, and beeps to alert you that you’re being listened to, offering no audio alert that you’re being listened to. Oh, and Drop In also activates the video camera on the target device, if it has one.

Apple puts privacy first

Can you imagine the fuss if Apple added something like Drop In to iCloud? Apart from Apple being a lawsuit magnet for every scumbag lawyer in the United States, there’s a difference in expectation.

Apple is certainly happy to push its role as the protector of our privacy, but we have also come to trust the company with our privacy.

Whereas if Amazon, Facebook, Samsung or almost anyone else comes up with something like Drop In, or sells a spy camera for your home, or uses its televisions to record your conversations, we’re not even surprised anymore.

The fact that we get so angry when Apple screws up like this illustrates clearly that we expect better of Cupertino.