Amazon Key: Bad idea or evolutionary pressure tactic?

Like most people, or at least much of the Twitterverse, I am a bit freaked out by the idea of having a stranger open my front door to put a package inside. If you want to get freaked out a little more than the idea of a stranger unlocking your front door while no one is home, imagine it happening while you or a family member are home. When I hear someone fiddling with my front door I very quickly go to DEFCON 1. My brother once showed up when I wasn’t expecting him, and by the time I got to the door he had assumed I wasn’t home and was fiddling with opening the door with his key. I arrived at the door to hear someone apparently trying to break in, and was fully prepared to open a can of whoopass. I wonder how many couriers making deliveries for Amazon are going to end up at the wrong end of a can of whoopass, or how many criminals will take advantage of us getting used to strangers opening our front door and figure out how to subvert it deliver some whoopass of their own? Sorry, it’s the New Yorker in me.

Of course, what Amazon Key promises to allow is for someone known to Amazon to unlock your door and place a package inside with the entire event being caught on video. And I believe, or can invoke WSOD, that Amazon has the technology to make this safe. Or sort of safe. Video helps in bringing a criminal to justice, it doesn’t stop a crime in progress. And while, like an alarm system, it may cause a criminal to focus on softer targets (like your neighbor who has no security systems) it also enables the criminal equivalent of a spear phishing attack. It actually becomes a tool they could subvert in a complex burglary scheme. If you think all criminals are dumb, listen to a crime prevention officer describe how burglars figured out a gap in a high-end security system so they could break into a house and steal an expensive piece of art.

Lest you think I am completely down on Amazon Key let me dissuade you. There are circumstances where it makes sense. For example, we have a house in the city. The neighborhood is very safe, except there is a fair amount of low-level property crime. Packages are regularly taken from porches, if you leave your car unlocked the items inside will be given new homes, and occasionally if you leave a door unlocked or a ground floor window open someone may enjoy your hospitality. If we need a package delivered we use an Amazon Locker a few blocks away. Sometimes that isn’t an option, or the most convenient option, and I would love to use Amazon Key. But they aren’t getting in my house. There is a detached garage, and I would happily install Amazon Key on it and let them leave packages inside. It is a different risk/reward calculation.

I wonder how big the Amazon Key opportunity is, particularly for the next decade. How many people have a secure area that doesn’t expose their entire house, like my detached garage? Or if they are willing to consider allowing someone to access their home directly, have to turn off their alarm system or at least bypass some of their sensors? In the long run Amazon Key could disable certain sensors just for the duration of the delivery (and you may be able to do it now if all the pieces, including IFTTT, come together), but I bet we are at sub-1% penetration of that capability. And what about family pets? At a minimum you need to make sure your escape artist doesn’t take advantage of the front door being opened. And a lot of the most loving and gentle dogs draw the line at a perceived home invasion. Talk about opening a can of whoopass!

I’ve been going back and forth, and mostly negative, on Amazon Key for fun. It is a disruptive idea, though not particularly far fetched. A recent projection is that online sales will exceed brick and mortar sales for the first time this holiday season. In a world in which most of our goods are delivered to us we can, and should, expect that our homes will change to accommodate that lifestyle. My city house also has a mud room. The mud room has both an outside door and a door into the house. We don’t ever close the inner door, and it has no lock on it. But we could install a lock and alarm the inner door as well, and allow delivery access into the mud room while keeping the house (and pets) secure. A lot of houses built in the last 30 years have mud rooms, and they could (some easily, some with significant work) evolve to be package delivery rooms. The same could be said for the entrance rooms/halls of houses and apartments. When we renovated a Seattle-area condo we could easily have turned the entrance hallway into an area that was securable in a way that allowed for direct package delivery without giving easy access to the rest of the unit. Homes used to be built with doors that allowed the milkman to deliver dairy products directly into a box inside the house and slots for the postman to securely deliver the mail. A decade (or two) from now we are all going to have a way to securely receive a large variety of packages at home. In that context, Amazon Key is just one of the forcing functions that will cause homes to evolve.

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4 Responses to Amazon Key: Bad idea or evolutionary pressure tactic?

  1. I have been going through a lot of the same thought processes. I have a vacation house and it would be nice to have things delivered there when I was away. It would mean not having to accept it at home and bring it up later. Having a package outside for an undetermined amount of time doesn’t seem like a smart idea. But like you I worry about security. We do have a mud room and we could put a lock on the inside door. I might like a stronger lock on it though since someone in the mud room would be out of view. Although we do have a camera inside the house that would catch (an image of) the intruder once inside. In theory.

    I actually lived in a house with a sort of air lock for milk delivery back in Brooklyn. Someone like that for packages sounds like a great idea. Maybe Amazon will think of that next.

  2. hawkse says:

    This article makes me appreciate what a luxury it is to be living in an area where packages are regularly left outside my locked apartment door. Either that or dropped off at the neighbour.

  3. Bill G says:

    Front door? Why not toolshed?

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