The report states that Amazon is using data from Alexa smart speakers to serve targeted ads

A report released last week confirmed that Amazon is using voice data from its Echo devices to serve targeted ads on its own platforms and on the web. The report, by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine and Northeastern University, said Amazon’s methods for doing so are not in line with its privacy policies.

titled, “Your Echo Is Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Targeting Ads 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 your Echo smart speakers and share it with up to 41 advertising partners. This data is then used to “infer user interests” and “serve targeted advertising on the platform (echo devices) as well as off the platform (web).” It also concludes that this type of data is in high demand, resulting in “30 times ad bids from advertisers”.

Amazon confirmed to the edge It uses voice data from Alexa interactions to inform relevant ads displayed on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads. Similar to what you would experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com or ordered a song through Amazon Music, if you asked Alexa to order paper towels or play a song on Amazon Music, record that purchase or play a song that might inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads.” Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Ramhild said in an email.

The company also confirmed the presence of targeted ads on its smart speakers. Noting that it’s the same experience if they interact with this content on other channels, Raemhild said, going on to say that Amazon does not share audio recordings with developers. “The developers get the information needed to fulfill your requests within their skills, such as the answers when you play a trivia skill, or the name of the song you want to play,” she said. “We do not share the personal information of our customers with third-party skills without the customer’s consent.” Amazon allows Alexa users to opt out of ad targeting as well (see sidebar).

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The 10 scientists behind the report, led by Omar Iqbal, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, created an audit framework to measure online advertising data collection. Then they created a number of characters to interact with Alexa using third-party skills; These characters had specific interests: spirituality, connected cars, 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 targeted ads were served to everyone elsewhere on the web, leading to the conclusion that intelligent speaker interactions are used to target ads on the web and in audio ads. This led the researchers to determine that there is “strong evidence that smart speaker interactions are used for the purpose of ad targeting, and that such ad targeting means significant data is shared across multiple parties.”

The report notes that only processed text was shared, not raw audio, consistent with what Amazon’s Reimhild said. Additionally, compared to previous research on smart TVs and VR headsets, there was less tracking of data activity on smart speakers.

Amazon Echo smart screens.
Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

amazon said the edge She thinks the research is flawed. “Many of the conclusions in this research are based on inaccurate conclusions or guesses by the authors, and do not accurately reflect how Alexa works,” said Reimhild. “We are not in the business of selling personal information to our customers and 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 policy 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 opt in or out of interest-based advertising anywhere that service may be used,” Reimhild said. However, the report found that these policies were sporadic at best, with more than 70 percent of the skills it examined did not mention Alexa or Amazon, and only 10 skills (2.2 percent) are explicit about data collection practices in their privacy policies.

The authors concluded 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 devices without open interfaces that allow independent researchers to reveal what data is being collected or how it is shared and used.”

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