technology

While You're Away, Alexa App Plays House

A new Amazon “skill” lets consumers have the smart speaker play recorded conversations that could fool would-be burglars to conclude there’s someone in the home they’re casing. 

That may not be the total idea behind Hippo Insurance’s Away Mode app, which seems to better serve as a commercial for more traditional home security or a just-for-fun diversion. The conversations were created by writers from “Saturday Night Live,” Upright Citizens Brigade and the sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” but the mere sound of people inside could deter a burglar. In that way, this Alexa app is almost like a digital dog barking. 

In fact, Amazon.com also offers Guard Dog, another free app with the sound of a barking and growling dog. Another app, Burglar Deterrent, creates household noises so a burglar is faked out by the sound of clattering pots and pans or people talking and laughing.

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The Away Mode app description reads, “Away Mode is the first-ever home protection skill that harnesses the power of human awkwardness to ward off unwanted visitors. It’s like that scene from Home Alone, except instead of cardboard cutouts, it’s insufferable conversations… .”  

Titles include: “A Stay At Home Mom Who Just Can’t Deal Anymore,” “Two Average Guys Brainstorm What’s Unique About Themselves So They Can Start a Podcast About It,” “Passionate Argument Over Rules of Complicated Board Game,” and “Emergency PTA Meeting To Discuss Memes, Fidget Spinners, and Other Teen Fads.” 

A couple others are audios of a mom having a phone conversation with her daughter to walk her through putting together a piece of Ikea-like furniture, and another conversation of a couple that is breaking up while watching TV.

Hippo Insurance created the app mainly to get people thinking about home insurance and, secondly, to get them thinking about more valid home security systems. 

That probably would not include Fake House Alarm, another Alexa app that lets a homeowner turn it on if they already suspect someone is snooping around the house. In its product description, it warns, “Please note that this is a fake alarm and acts only as a potential deterrent. It should not be used as a substitute for a real house alarm or for contacting law enforcement.”

The Alexa apps mask the fact that burglaries have been declining nationwide. FBI stats say between 2014 and 2015 the incidence of burglary dropped from 701 to 542 per 100,000 people, a 22% change, and that trend continues.

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