Why You Shouldn’t Let Amazon Monitor Your Sleep


Key Takeaways

  • Amazon has been given the approval to manufacture a device that monitors users’ sleep with radar. 
  • Privacy advocates say that Amazon could get too much information from sleep monitoring. 
  • Google’s second-generation Nest Hub uses the same radar technology to track users’ sleep habits.
Someone asleep sitting on the floor, leaned against the bed, with a laptop resting on a pillow in their lap.

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Amazon might soon be able to monitor your sleep, but you should think twice about letting the company have access to this information, privacy experts say. 

Federal authorities have granted Amazon permission to create a device that monitors users’ slumbers. The touchless device would use radar sensors to track sleep. In its request, Amazon said the device could help improve consumers' awareness and management of sleep hygiene.

"Do users really want Amazon to have access to all this health data?" Attila Tomaschek, a researcher at the website ProPrivacy, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Maybe they do if they want some kind of insight into dealing with a specific health or sleep issue. But it seems like a lot of personal information to share with Amazon for just a casual user."

Too Much Information?

The FCC said in its approval that Amazon "plans to use the radar's capability of capturing motion in a three-dimensional space to enable contactless sleep tracing functionalities."

However, Amazon needed FCC approval to use radar that captures "motion in a discrete space that is characterized by a short distance between the radar and what it is sensing," according to the FCC document. "The power level under which the Amazon Radar Sensor will be permitted to operate will be the same as we previously permitted in the Google Waiver."

Amazon isn’t the only company to monitor sleep. The Apple Watch is among the many wearables that can track sleep if you wear it to bed.

But Amazon’s vast reach means that data about sleep will be precious to the company, Dirk Schrader, the head of security management at software company New Net Technologies, told Lifewire in an email interview. Amazon’s radar device will likely record movement, noise, and pulse, he said. 

"These data points, if combined with other data in Amazon’s reach (think of Alexa, Prime Video, buying habits) allow for a pretty deep analysis about an individual, and—as a result—for more precise predictions of what that person is consuming next and having that product or a similar one from Amazon’s portfolio presented," he added. 

Other companies also offer ways to measure your sleep data, including Xiaomi, Fitbit, Withings, and Garmin monitor sleep information. But, said Schrader, "What they don’t have is that reach into a person’s personal life, like Amazon, nor that other data."

Perchance to Snore

Amazon’s main competitor in the field is Google, which already has the jump on Amazon in this space, Tomaschek said. Google’s second-generation Nest Hub uses the same radar technology to track users’ sleep habits. 

Someone catnapping at their desk with post-it notes with open eyes drawn on them on their face.

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Google Nest users can control what data they share with Google. They can delete their sleep data and sound recordings and turn off the sleep monitoring functionality of their Nest Hub at any time they wish to do so. Google also claims that the data will never be used for advertising purposes, only for troubleshooting and service improvements. 

"We don’t know much about how Amazon will use data collected through its devices, but it could be pretty well in line with how Google is handling it at present," Tomaschek said.

The information that Amazon could glean from a sleep monitor is more than you think.

"With this technology, not only will Amazon know when you go to sleep and when you wake," Tomaschek said. "It will be able to detect how much you snore, how often you toss and turn during the night, whether and how often you get up during the night, and whether you have any kind of sleep disorder or other health condition that could be derived from monitoring your movements overnight."

Amazon could use the data to troubleshoot issues with its devices and sensors or use the data to improve its services continuously. Or, Amazon could use the data to serve users with ads. 

"Your Amazon sleep sensor detected that you might have sleep apnea?" Tomaschek said. "Don’t be surprised if you start seeing ads for CPAP machines all over the web."

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