According to Experts, Alexa Data Is Used to Target You

According to Experts, Alexa Data Is Used to Target You

A report released last week contends that Amazon uses voice data from its Echo devices to serve targeted ads on its own platforms and the web. The report, produced by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University, said the ways Amazon does this is inconsistent with its privacy policies.

Titled, “Your Echos are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon 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 as many as 41 advertising partners. That data is then used to “infer user interests” and “serve targeted ads on-platform (Echo devices) as well as off-platform (web).” It also concludes that this type of data is in hot demand, leading to “30X higher ad bids from advertisers.”

Amazon confirmed to The Verge that it does use voice data from Alexa interactions to inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads. “Similar to what you’d experience if you made a purchase on 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 said in an email.

Alexa customers can opt out of interest-based ads from Amazon on its Advertising Preferences Page. While there is no mention here of Echo devices, Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild confirmed to The Verge that it does include ads on devices and services such as Alexa.

For Alexa devices, there are additional privacy controls managed through Settings > Alexa Privacy in the Alexa app or at Here, you can see and manage your voice recordings as well as manage the permissions granted to skills. To manage third-party skills advertising preferences, you will need to go to their app or website.

The company also confirmed there are targeted ads on its smart speakers. “Customers may receive interest-based ads when they use ad-supported premium content – like music, radio or news streams,” said Raemhild, pointing out that this is the same experience if they engaged with that content on other channels. She went on to say that Amazon does not share voice recordings with developers. “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,” she said. “We do not share our customers’ personal information to third-party skills without the customer’s consent.” Amazon allows Alexa users to opt out of ad targeting as well (see sidebar).

The 10 research scientists behind the report, led by Umar Iqbal, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, created an auditing framework to measure online advertising data collection. They then created a number of personas to interact with Alexa using third-party skills; these personas had specific interests: spirituality, connected car, smart home, pets, fashion, dating, navigation, beverages, and health. They also created a “vanilla” persona as a control.