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New research titled “Your Echos are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem” will make you think twice before using Alexa again. According to its report, Echo devices’ voice data is being used by Amazon to “serve targeted ads on-platform (Echo devices) as well as off-platform (web).” The 10 researchers who conducted the research are connected with the University of Washington, Northeastern University, UC Davis, and UC Irvine.
Specifically, the research shows that other third parties join Amazon in the data collection to later share it with 41 advertising partners. To prove it, the researchers started assessing the online advertising data collection and using different personas on Alexa. Each persona used promoted specific interests, including spirituality, smart home, pets, fashion, dating, connected car, navigation, beverages, and vanilla for control. As expected, the results’ statistical analysis showed that all personas were provided with targeted ads on the web, which helped the researchers spot “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.”
Amazon, on the other hand, opposed the conclusion of the research by saying to The Verge that it is inaccurate. The company made the statement despite admitting that it indeed utilizes Alexa voice data coming from user interactions. “Similar to what you’d experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com 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,” Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild told The Verge. “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,” Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild said. “We are not in the business of selling our customers’ personal information and we do not share Alexa requests with advertising networks.”
In addition, Raemhild said that there are, in fact, targeted ads on Amazon Echos but that it is the same, just like what customers will have when they use ad-supported premium content on other channels. As for sharing voice recordings with other developers, Raemhild’s response matches what the researchers said only processed transcripts were given to the parties instead of raw audio. “Developers get the information necessary to fulfill your requests within their skills, such as answers when you play a trivia skill, or the name of the song you want to play,” Raemhild elaborated. “We do not share our customers’ personal information to third-party skills without the customer’s consent.”