Amazon Alexa Using Voice Data To Target You With Ads?

Be careful what you say around Alexa, you could be targeted with ads as a result.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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At this point, we know that our Google searches and browsing are used to show us creepily specific ads. As strange as it is, targeted ads are simply a part of being on the internet. Many digital marketing agencies have been birthed from the slow rise of targeted ads, and consumers have started to expect it. But what plagues many is the possibility that technology is listening to our every word and storing that information for future advertisements. For Amazon Alexa, many have scrutinized its possible practices of storing vocal data unethically.

Researchers from the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University released a report about Amazon Alexa’s data-storing practices last week. The report details the hypocritical nature of recording private information and how it deviates from Amazon’s terms of service. Amazon Alexa allegedly stores voice data through its Echo system, utilizing that information to formulate targeted ads to the users.

The report details some troubling ways Amazon Alexa records information while denying its practices through its privacy policy. The researchers found that Alexa could be distributing audio recordings to 41 different advertising partners. The data is then transformed into user-specific ads marketed through the Echo devices and the web. Advertisers and brands are paying top dollar for user data, with ad bids costing 30 times more than previous years. With such a lucrative outcome, it’s no wonder humungous corporations would opt to sell users’ information without their knowledge.

Amazon only recently confirmed that the Alexa interactions lead to storing vocal recordings. The corporation also explained how the audio information is utilized to bring targeted ads to the consumer. Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild explained that this conversion is similar to those using the online Amazon site. Data of people’s purchases are stored and used for future ads that target individual buyers. Though Amazon executives explain web data storage as an analogous process to audio recording, many find issues with the surveillance aspects of this technology.

Raemhild also described how Amazon smart speakers would also display targeted ads. The speakers will showcase several targeted ads based on a user’s internet searches and online purchasing. Especially when someone is using the Amazon Alexa function, information is being recorded to launch interest-specific ads through the speaker system, computer, or other Amazon products. This hopefully clarifies many consumers’ questions surrounding the vocal recording and targeted ads.

This isn’t the first occurrence of Amazon experiencing a data-recording controversy. Until 2019, the tech corporation never publically stated that Amazon Alexa kept vocal recordings that human reviewers then processed. The fact that Amazon was silent about people listening in on users’ conversations gave way to extensive criticism. Now, the company is attempting to be more open about its terms of service and data-extracting practices.

There is much to scrutinize about the humungous tech company Amazon. As more technology sells customer information to advertisers, more questions arise about the ethical basis of these practices. Above all, many believe that voice recording without the user’s consent is a surveillance issue, leaving many vulnerable to data or personal information breaches.