Amazon Keeps Growing, and So Does Its Cache of Data on You


From what you purchase online, to the way you remember tasks, to if you monitor your step, Amazon is seemingly all over the place.And it appears the corporate doesn’t need to halt its reach anytime soon. In recent weeks, Amazon has said it can spend billions of dollars in two gigantic acquisitions that, if approved, will broaden its ever growing presence within the lives of consumers.

This time, the corporate is targeting two areas: health care, through its $3.9 billion buyout of the first care company One Medical, and the “smart home,” where it plans to expand its already mighty presence through a $1.7 billion merger with iRobot, the maker of the favored robotic Roomba vacuum.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an organization known for its vast collection of consumer information, each mergers have heightened enduring privacy concerns about how Amazon gathers data and what it does with it. The newest line of Roombas, for instance, employ sensors that map and remember a house’s floor plan.

“It’s acquiring this vast set of information that Roomba collects about people’s homes,” said Ron Knox, an Amazon critic who works for the anti-monopoly group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Its obvious intent, through all the opposite products that it sells to consumers, is to be in your own home. (And) together with the privacy issues come the antitrust issues, since it’s buying market share.”

Amazon’s reach goes well beyond that. Some estimates show the retail giant controls roughly 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market, allowing it to collect granular data concerning the shopping preferences of tens of millions of Americans and more worldwide. Meanwhile, its Echo devices, which house the voice assistant Alexa, have dominated the U.S. smart speaker market, accounting for roughly 70% of sales, in keeping with estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Ring, which Amazon purchased in 2018 for $1 billion, monitors doorsteps and helps police track down crime – even when users won’t bear in mind. And at select Amazon stores and Whole Foods, the corporate is testing a palm-scanning technology that permits customers to pay for items by storing biometric data within the cloud, sparking concerns about risks of an information breach, which Amazon has attempted to assuage.

“We treat your palm signature similar to other highly sensitive personal data and keep it secure using best-in-class technical and physical security controls,” the corporate said on a web site that gives information concerning the technology.

Even consumers who actively avoid Amazon are still more likely to have little say about how their employers power their computer networks, which Amazon – together with Google – has long dominated through its cloud-computing service AWS.

“It’s hard to consider one other organization that has as many touch points as Amazon does to a person,” said Ian Greenblatt, who heads up tech research at the patron research and data analytics firm J.D. Power. “It’s almost overwhelming, and it’s hard to place a finger on it.”

And Amazon – like several company – goals to grow. Prior to now few years, the corporate has purchased the Wi-Fi startup Eero and partnered with the development company Lennar to supply tech-powered houses. With iRobot, it could gain another constructing block for the last word smart home – and, in fact, more data.

Customers can opt out of getting iRobot devices store a layout of their homes, in keeping with the vacuum maker. But data privacy advocates worry the merger is one other way Amazon could suck up information to integrate into its other devices or use to focus on consumers with ads.

In an announcement, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski denied that’s what the corporate desires to do.

“We don’t use home maps for targeted promoting and haven’t any plans to achieve this,” Levandowski said.

Whether that may relieve concerns is one other matter, especially in light of research about Amazon’s other devices. Earlier this yr, a bunch of university researchers released a report that found voice data from Amazon’s Echo devices are used to focus on ads to consumers – something the corporate had denied up to now.

Umar Iqbal, a postdoc on the University of Washington who led the research, said he and his colleagues found Echo devices running third-party Skills, that are like apps for Alexa, that communicate with advertisers.

Levandowski said consumers can opt out of receiving “interest-based” ads by adjusting their preferences on Amazon’s promoting preferences page. She also said Amazon doesn’t share Alexa requests with promoting networks.

Skills that collect personal information are required to post their privacy policies on a detail page in Amazon’s store, in keeping with the corporate. Researchers, nonetheless, found only 2% of Skills are clear about their data collection practices, and the overwhelming majority don’t mention Alexa or Amazon in any respect.

For corporations like Amazon, data collection is for greater than just data’s sake, noted Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics on the University of Notre Dame.

“You may almost see them just attempting to paint a broader picture of a person,” Martin said. “It’s concerning the inferences that they’re in a position to draw about you specifically, and then you definately in comparison with other people.”

Amazon’s One Medical deal, as an illustration, has sparked questions on how the corporate would handle personal health data that might fall into its lap.

Should the deal close, Levandowski said customers’ health information shall be handled individually from all other Amazon businesses. She also added Amazon wouldn’t share personal health information outside of One Medical for “promoting or marketing purposes of other Amazon services and products without clear permission from the client.”

But Lucia Savage, a chief privacy officer on the chronic care provider Omada Health, said that doesn’t mean One Medical wouldn’t have the opportunity to get data from other arms of Amazon’s business that would help it higher profile its patients. The knowledge just has to flow a technique, she said.

To ensure, privacy concerns usually are not limited to Amazon. Within the aftermath of Roe v Wade being overturned, as an illustration, Google said it could robotically get rid of data about users who visit abortion clinics amid pressure from Democratic lawmakers. Meanwhile, Meta, which owns Facebook, settled a category motion lawsuit in February over its use of “cookies” a couple of decade ago that tracked users after they logged off Facebook.

But unlike Meta and Google, whose focus is principally on selling ads, Amazon might profit more from collecting data because its primary goal is to sell products, said Alex Harman, director of competition policy on the anti-monopoly group Economic Security Project.

“For them, data is all about getting you to purchase more and be locked into their stuff,” Harman said.


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