Amazon Alexa Shares Your Voice Data

Google and Facebook are well-known for using your data and search history to deliver personalized advertisements. Even in a recently leaked internal document, Facebook admits it has no idea what it does with your data or where it goes. 

Now a new report found that Amazon uses voice data from Alexa to send you personalized advertising. The report was published last week by researchers at the University of Washington and other US universities.

The study, “Your Echos are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem“, reveals how Amazon collects and shares data from your interactions with Alexa with up to 41 ad partners and how Amazon will utilize the information you provide to your Echo to display tailored ads.

According to researchers, the actions of developers of Amazon and Skills (software integrated with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant service) are often inconsistent with privacy policies. Experts have developed an auditing system to assess how voice data is collected, used and transmitted. They created several fake personas with different profiles of Echo smart speaker usage and then simulated interactions to test statistical differences in the amounts offered for audio and web ads.

Interaction with smart speakers, according to the study, results in up to 30 times greater ad bids from advertisers.

“Amazon’s inference of advertising interests from users’ voice can be interpreted as inconsistent with their public statements. Amazon does not provide transparency in usage of data and thus cannot be reliably trusted to protect user privacy.,” the researchers noted.

The paper also notes that Amazon received a patent in 2018 called ‘Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users’ — which describes how “the current physical and/or emotional the state of the user may facilitate the ability to provide targeted audio content, such as advertisements, to the user.”

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