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| December 17, 2020

Amazon’s new Halo Health Bracelet Tells Users What’s Wrong with Them by Monitoring Voice Tone and Body Fat

Iolanda Bulgaru

Iolanda is senior content strategist at Healthcare Weekly and has 30 years of experience in regulatory compliance, strategy and clinical psychology. Iolanda is senior content strategist at Healthcare Weekly and has 30 years of experience in regulatory compliance, strategy and clinical psychology.

Over the summer, Amazon unveiled its new AI-powered Halo health and fitness tracker that links to a cellphone app, providing users valuable insight into their overall wellness. However, the new device also seems to shame users.

The wearable fitness device is equipped with a microphone that listens to the wearer’s voice, and it then judges the tone, including describing the user as ‘opinionated’ or ‘condescending.’

Heather Kelly and Geoffrey Fowler of The Washington Post were able to experience Halo pre-release, which they thought sent more data to Amazon about them than it helped them to become healthier.

The Amazon Halo can detect the user’s emotion by analyzing speech, as well as monitoring sleep, heart rate, and tracking activity based on the duration and intensity of movement adding to the long list of initiatives undertaken by Amazon in an effort to disrupt the healthcare industry.

At the time of the Washington Post review, Halo was not available to the public, but only by invitation to an ‘early access’ release. But it’s now available to the public, for $99 plus a $3.99 monthly subscription.

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Halo Looks Like a Fitbit, But Goes Further

The Halo wristband looks more like a Fitbit than an Apple Watch; it’s just a simple band with a sensor housing capsule.

The sensor capsule is what makes Halo tick, holding several sensors gathering accurate data about the wearer that is then calculated into useful information about their health.

There is a temperature sensor, an accelerometer, a heart rate monitor, an LED indicator light, two microphones, and a button to turn the microphones on or off, as well as other functions.

However, unlike either Fitbit or Apple, Halo will voice detailed data out loud, even if you don’t want to it.

Halo Can Seem Judgmental

Kelly and Fowler each reviewed the Halo band, along to see if it could determine their genders, something the device uses to analyze the tone of voice as well as fat composition.

During the voice testing, Halo described Kelly’s voice as ‘dismissive’ and ‘condescending’ and Fowler’s as ‘opinionated’, and those descriptions popped up on the app.

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This voice feature is reputedly aimed at helping the user adjust their tone of voice to improve their relationships; however, it could also simply take the “spice” out, leaving every conversation somewhat flat.

It works by continually listening to the user’s voice, allowing it to recognize their pitch and tone. As Halo learns about the user, it organizes conversations into positives or negatives, as well as high or low energy.

For example, if the AI registers a voice as low energy and negative, it may describe it as ‘discouraged.’

Amazon has been training its AI for years to judge tone by using real voice recordings. The company has also done extensive trials, hoping to weed out biases that could occur depending on the user’s gender, age, or ethnicity.

Kelly and Fowler, however, found that the AI tends to repeat personal descriptions like ‘interested,’ ‘focused’ and ‘knowledgeable.’

Fowler received negative terms like ‘stern,’ ‘opinionated,’ and ‘hesitant’, and Kelly was judged as ‘stubborn,’ ‘dismissive,’ ‘stern’ and ‘condescending.’

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Amazon brings unique expertise in machine learning and AI,” says Maulik Majumudar, Amazon medical officer. “There are many examples of this in the Halo wristband, but the specific ones that come to mind are body fat analysis and tone of voice. That’s a more holistic and comprehensive view of health than just physical health alone.”

A Fat-Shaming Wearable?

As well as telling users they sound unpleasant, Halo also keeps them constantly updated about their body fat.

The app allows users to upload a picture of themselves in only their underwear, transforming it into a 3D rendering with a slider to see what you look like with more or less body fat.

While the Halo is not designed to offer any suggestions or personalized plans to help the wearer lose weight, it does display the individual’s current weight and body fat percentage on the app.

 

An Invasion of Privacy?

While the Halo privacy policy says that Amazon will not sell the data captured by the wearable, including pictures of the user in their underwear, without user permission, that doesn’t mean the company can’t profit from it.

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For example, the e-commerce giant could use your sleep patterns, heart rate, and tone of voice to improve its health algorithms.

One also wonders what type of weight loss products or self-help books might begin popping up on your Amazon account, once you begin using this device. 


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