Amazon's purchase of eero for its Wi-Fi router technology has put the corporation in the position of ultimately being able to see all our web traffic, should they see fit to do so. Apple should plant a flag in the ground for user privacy and return to manufacturing, designing, and securing Wi-Fi networking gear.
It was a shame when Apple stopped selling the AirPort Wi-Fi router, but suddenly it's much more than that. in case you missed it, Amazon has bought eero, and with it will likely come the ability to watch all of our network traffic to more efficiently sell us things.
You've heard of eero, and based on what we know about you from our forum conversations, you are statistically more likely to have bought its Wi-Fi mesh system than any market segment. This is a case where the company and the technology has stayed rather obscure, even though the way it improves Wi-Fi reception throughout your house and office is exceptionally useful.
Amazon buying the company is good for how it surely means more people will learn of it, and more people will benefit from this technology. Maybe that is what motivated Amazon. Perhaps the company wants us all to benefit from this — but benevolence seems unlikely to us.
You no more believe that it's altruism than you expect Amazon to give away routers for free. And even the joint press announcement that Amazon and eero made tells you that there's much more to this.
"We have a shared vision that the smart home experience can get even easier," said Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices and Services. "And we're committed to continue innovating on behalf of customers."
Amazon's smart home technology revolves around the Echo with its Alexa voice assistant. Alexa can be very good, and very useful, and does many things so here we have two positives. Doubtlessly, more people will get to use eero's hardware and so we'll all be able to have Alexa in more places around the house.
Yet, this is a case of two positives making a huge negative.
If Amazon makes the Wi-Fi router in our house, Amazon has complete access to our entire web traffic. Forget even regular VPNs, everything goes through that router first and so absolutely everything could go to Amazon.
It doesn't have to. There's no technical reason it must. And it may be that Amazon has no intention of collecting this data or in any way using it. If you had to choose who to trust your data with between two enormous corporations whose names begin with A, however, it would not be Amazon you picked.
In truth, we need to be wary of any company, but Apple is the one that has gone to lengths to protect our data in fights with the FBI. And perhaps most significantly of all, it is also the one that has made a big deal of the fact that it treats our data as ours and ours alone.
If Apple now snooped on all of our data and started selling ads targeted by what it finds, that would called the most enormous PR issue. If Amazon did it, that would just be called a day ending with a Y.
It's not all about privacy
Until Amazon's purchase of eero, we didn't especially lament Apple's AirPort all that much because it hadn't really been kept up to date for some time, minus some urgent updates. We'd been told before by our sources inside the company that they would keep AirPort "as safe as possible, for as long as possible," which for now, seems to be the case as it even updated the software to support AirPlay 2 in August 2018. There is a day coming, sooner rather than later, where that line has been crossed, and no more updates will be made available.
Now that privacy implications have put Apple's solutions back in our minds, though, there are other immediate benefits from the company resuming selling Wi-Fi routers. Amazon explicitly talks about how this move will help their smart home plans, but Apple has a few of those itself. We're finally seeing Apple's HomeKit being adopted by more third-party companies, and it's becoming a much more well-used system but it's not the most robust.
Right now, HomeKit can get a bit cranky if your router is a basic low-specification and cheap one, even if you have an Apple TV or HomePod as a HomeKit Hub. An Apple-produced router would not just be guaranteed to work with HomeKit, but could function as that HomeKit Hub with buyers not needing to rely on a HomePod, Apple TV, or an iPad effectively mounted in your house to perform the same tasks.
And, in conjunction with an Apple AirPort base station resurrection, the Apple TV could act as a wired Wi-Fi extender, and the HomePod could act like the AirPort Express used to. The HomePod, and the Apple TV could act as a stealthily inserted mesh Wi-Fi networking system, already installed, and all it needs at its core is that hypothetical new router from Apple. Who better to educate the public on the benefits of mesh Wi-Fi in a home than Apple?
So, Amazon will get the mindshare from eero, and Alexa. And it will prop up the pairing at every chance it gets when somebody needs school supplies from Amazon, makes a Whole Foods order, or even just buys a book online.
If you're not a long time Apple user, if you don't follow technology news, you're going to buy the first router you see, and Amazon will have that in users' faces, all the time. And, it would be so much better for all of us if that were an Apple product instead of an Amazon one.