Report Shows Amazon Uses Alexa Smart Speaker Data to Serve Targeted Ads
A report released last week claims that Amazon uses voice data from its Echo devices to serve targeted ads on its own platforms and across the web. The report, produced by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University, said Amazon’s conduct is inconsistent with its privacy policies.
Titled “Your Echoes Are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Advertising Targeting in Amazon’s Smart Speaker Ecosystem,” the report concludes that Amazon and third parties (including advertising and tracking services) collect data from your interactions with Alexa through Echo smart speakers and share it with no less than 41 advertising partners. This data is then used to “infer user interests” and “deliver targeted advertisements on the platform (Echo devices) as well as off-platform (web)”. It also concludes that this type of data is in high demand, resulting in “30x higher ad bids from advertisers.”
Amazon has confirmed The edge that it uses voice data from Alexa interactions to inform relevant advertisements displayed on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places advertisements. “Similar to what you would experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you asked Alexa to order paper towels or play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song playback may inform relevant advertisements displayed on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places advertisements, Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Raemhild said in an email.
The company also confirmed that there were targeted ads on its smart speakers. “Customers may receive interest-based ads when using premium ad-supported content, such as music, radio or news feeds,” Raemhild said, noting that he it’s the same experience if they interact with that content on other channels. She went on to say that Amazon does not share voice recordings with developers. “Developers get the information needed to respond to your skill requests, such as the answers when you play a quiz skill or the name of the song you want to play,” she said. declared. “We do not share our customers’ personal information with third-party jurisdictions without the customer’s consent.” Amazon also allows Alexa users to opt out of ad targeting (see sidebar).
The 10 researchers behind the report, led by Umar Iqbal, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, created an audit framework to measure the collection of online advertising data. They then created a number of characters to interact with Alexa using third-party skills; these characters had specific interests: spirituality, connected car, smart home, pets, fashion, dating, navigation, drinks and health. They also created a “vanilla” character as a control.
Statistical analysis of the results determined that each person received targeted ads elsewhere on the web, leading to the conclusion that smart speaker interactions are used for ad targeting on the web and in audio ads. . This led the researchers to determine that there was “strong evidence that smart speaker interactions are used for the purpose of ad targeting, and that ad targeting involves significant data sharing between multiple parties.”
The report notes that only processed transcripts were shared, not raw audio, as Amazon’s Raemhild said. Also, compared to previous research on smart TVs and VR headsets, there was less data activity tracking on smart speakers.
amazon said The edge that he believes the research is flawed. “Many conclusions from this research are based on inaccurate inferences or speculation by the authors, and do not accurately reflect how Alexa works,” Raemhild said. “We do not sell our customers’ personal information and we do not share Alexa requests with ad networks.”
Raemhild said that all third-party skills that collect personal information are required to post their privacy policies on their skills page and developers can then use that information in accordance with those policies. “For example, an ad-supported music streaming service may allow customers to turn interest-based ads on or off wherever that service may be used,” Raemhild said. However, the report found that these policies were patchy at best, with more than 70% of jurisdictions reviewed not even mentioning Alexa or Amazon, and only 10 jurisdictions (2.2%) were clear about data collection practices across the board. their privacy policies.
The authors conclude that there is a need for greater transparency in the collection, sharing and use of smart speaker data. They note that these devices are currently “black box-like devices with no open interfaces that allow independent researchers to expose what data is collected or how it is shared and used.”