FCC lifts rules so Amazon can build radar devices to track users' sleep

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The Federal Communications Commission waived its rules so Amazon can build radar sensors that the company says would be used to track people’s sleep.

The federal government’s exemption for Amazon paves the way for the tech giant to monitor users’ movements in the bedroom with extreme precision — all without users having to press a button.

The FCC accepted Amazon’s claim that the tech would be used to improve users’ health and wellness.

“Granting the waiver will provide substantial public benefit by, among other things, permitting the deployment of applications that can provide assistance to persons with disabilities and improve personal health and wellness,” wrote Ronald Repasi, acting chief of FCC’s office of engineering and technology, in a letter to Amazon granting the waiver. “We believe that, without the higher power levels associated with the waiver, it is highly likely that Amazon would not be able to produce devices that transmit with large enough bandwidths to provide sufficient resolution to achieve these objectives.”

Details about the product Amazon plans to build are scarce. Mr. Repasi’s letter to Amazon on Friday, first obtained by Bloomberg, noted that Amazon indicated its devices would be “nonmobile” and function only when connected to a power source.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. In its June request for a waiver, the company indicated it needed the waiver to build devices that could monitor sleep and detect movements.

Amazon officials told the FCC that the “higher degree of resolution and location precision” offered by the planned devices would help users better estimate sleep quality and improve their awareness and management of “sleep hygiene.” The company’s officials also argued the tech could be of use to users with physical impairments.

“Facilitating touchless device control could have a substantial societal impact by greatly enhancing the accessibility of everyday devices,” the Amazon officials wrote in their request.

According to Business Insider, Amazon has explored developing a product that expands its Alexa technology, the artificially intelligent virtual assistant, to track and detect sleep apnea.

Using technology that allows users to monitor their sleep and movement, activity trackers have helped produce several new products and become omnipresent on wearable technology such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit. Amazon‘s new devices could create a product that competes with existing activity trackers without forcing users to wear a product as they sleep.

Fitbit determines that a user is asleep when the device, a band snugly fastened to a wrist, detects that a body is entirely at rest and has not moved for approximately an hour, according to Fitbit.

Adding activity-tracking capabilities to Amazon‘s Alexa-enabled devices provides an avenue for Amazon to challenge other companies vying for sleep-tracking users’ business.

But Amazon’s touchless radar technology for users’ bedrooms is likely to raise concerns about hackers invading the privacy users expect in their bedrooms.

Last month, an ADT home security technician was sentenced to slightly more than four years in prison after hacking into customers’ video feeds.

The Justice Department said the technician secretly accessed roughly 200 customer accounts more than 9,600 times without the users’ consent. One female customer told the federal court that the technician accessed her bedroom camera five times per day, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Amazon is not the only tech company that has received a waiver for touchless technology. In granting Amazon’s waiver, the FCC noted it previously gave a waiver to Google in 2018 that the company used to deploy a mobile radar in its Pixel smartphone to enable touchless control of the device.

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