Apple's Echo rival could see you with built-in camera

The company has been exploring the inclusion of facial-recognition tech in its upcoming device, sources tell CNET.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
2 min read

Apple's rival to the Echo could know who you are just by looking at you.

The consumer electronics giant has explored putting a camera in its device, which could come in the form of a smart speaker like Amazon's Echo, according to people familiar with Apple's plans. The device would be "self aware" and detect who is in the room using facial recognition technology. That would let the device automatically pull up a person's preferences, such as the music and lighting they like, the sources said.

The hardware could be released by year's end, but it's more likely to be available in 2017. They cautioned, though, that Apple could change its plans to include a camera -- or even scrap the device entirely.

Apple declined to comment.

Your home is increasingly turning into a battleground for tech giants looking to sell you new, connected gadgets. It's part of an emerging area called the Internet of Things, which links together just about anything that plugs into an electrical outlet so the devices can communicate with one another.

Thanks to the Echo and its built-in voice assistant called Alexa, Amazon is already playing a central role in that transition in people's homes. Apple finds itself behind the pack even though it launched Siri before digital assistants came into vogue.

Neither the Echo nor Google's recently announced device, Google Home, currently have cameras. They're both voice-activated speakers that let you control your home appliances by speaking commands aloud. Apple's device also will obey voice commands through Siri, The Information reported earlier this week.

Here's everything the Amazon Echo can do

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Putting intelligent cameras into devices is a risk for companies because it raises questions about privacy. Intel planned to release a TV box with a camera, but it ditched that plan for its first product. Intel said that was due to the cost and the time it would take to build the device, but the company also faced backlash over concerns that the box would watch you all the time (which is pretty creepy). Intel ultimately sold that business, called OnCue, to Verizon, which did away with the hardware in favor of a streaming service called Go90.

Watch this: Apple's version of the Echo may include face-tracking camera

Still, proponents of smart cameras in devices say there's little privacy or security risk to consumers as long as the camera is turned off by default, and consumers have to opt-in to use it.

Apple has been one of the leaders in the push for more security and privacy for consumers. Its contentious battle with the FBI earlier this year drew attention to the need for tighter security on devices. It's unlikely Apple will include a camera in a smart home speaker unless it also could make sure the device is secure.

This article also appears in Spanish. Read: Rival de Apple para Amazon Echo tendrá reconocimiento facial