Amazon uses Alexa voice data to target you with ads

Researchers reveal that Amazon Echo devices record interactions with Alexa for targeted ads, Amazon says otherwise

Tech Desk May 02, 2022
The Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled virtual assistant, is seen at its product launch for Britain and Germany in London, Britain, September 14, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Researchers have reported that Amazon's Echo devices record data to target its owners with speciifc ads on its own platform and the web.

The report produced showed inconsistencies with the company's privacy policies and the ways it records and collected data.

Produced by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University, the report concluded that Amazon and third parties were recording and collecting data using your conversations with Alexa through Echo smart speakers, and sharing it with around 41 advertising partners. This data was being used to “infer user interests” and “serve targeted ads on-platform as well as off-platform (web)".

The report said that advertisers pay 30 times higher bids to get this user data to be used for targeted audiences.

When asked for comment by The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson said that "Similar to what you’d experience if you made a purchase on or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or to play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song play may inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads”.

The company also added that "Customers may receive interest-based ads when they use ad-supported premium content – like music, radio or news streams. “Developers get the information necessary to fulfil your requests within their skills, such as answers when you play a trivia skill or the name of the song you want to play. We do not share our customers’ personal information to third-party skills without the customer’s consent”.

The research team that produced the report used an auditing framework to measure online advertising data collection. The team created a number of personas to interact with Alexa using third-party skills, which were compared with a neutral control "vanillla" persona.

The researchers found “strong evidence that smart-speaker interactions are used for the purpose of targeting ads, and that this ad targeting implies significant data sharing across multiple parties.”

When the data was shared with Amazon, they expressed their belief that the study was flawed, saying that "Many of the conclusions in this research are based on inaccurate inferences or speculation by the authors, and do not accurately reflect how Alexa works. We are not in the business of selling our customers’ personal information and we do not share Alexa requests with advertising networks.”

Amazon spokesperson, Lauren Raemhild, said that third-party skills that collect personal information have to post their privacy policy on their skills page as a requirement so that developers can use the information accordingly.


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