Amazon Halo users will be able to ask Echo speakers and other Alexa-enable devices for updates on their activity scores, sleep quality, body composition and other health information under a new feature announced Thursday morning.
The company, already subject to scrutiny over Halo’s privacy implications, was quick to offer a series of caveats:
- “Connect Alexa to Halo” is opt-in, Amazon says. It’s off by default in the Halo app for iPhone or Android, and won’t work unless the user chooses to activate it. Users can deactivate the feature at any time.
- Protections including the option to set a secret PIN so that others in a user’s household can’t ask Alexa to divulge a Halo user’s personal health details. This can be set with an optional time-out, creating a five-minute window after users state the PIN in which they can continue to ask for data without giving the PIN again.
- Inquiries and responses about Halo data won’t be stored as part of the regular history of responses in the Alexa app.
- Halo itself is not an Alexa-enabled device, which means that users won’t be able to ask the Halo band for an update as they will an Alexa device.
- Alexa devices will not be used for the tone of voice analysis that works via the microphones on the Halo band.
The extent of those precautions illustrates the Halo team’s focus on privacy, and the ways in which the Halo device and service push privacy boundaries.
Features such as 3D body modeling to estimate body fat, and the ability to assess and provide feedback the user’s tone of voice, have prompted scrutiny and questions from tech reviewers and federal legislators.
Amazon addresses privacy concerns in a white paper. Among other safeguards, Halo users are required to establish a unique profile separate from their Amazon account, to avoid access by others in the same household.
The company says the option to enable the Alexa feature will be rolled out in an automatic firmware update for Halo users in the coming days.
Currently listed as unavailable, the Halo device normally sells for $99.99, with six months of Halo membership included. The service, required to enable Halo’s advanced features, is available for $3.99/month after that six-month period.
I previously purchased the Halo band to test for GeekWire’s Health Tech podcast, and continue to use it. Listen below, or subscribe to GeekWire Health Tech in any podcast app.