As Amazon grows, so does consumer interest

From what we buy online, to how we remember tasks, to how we monitor our front door, Amazon seems to be everywhere.

And the company doesn’t want to stop reaching anytime soon. In recent weeks, Amazon has announced that it will spend billions on two of his huge acquisitions. If the acquisition is approved, the company will be more present than ever in the lives of consumers.

This time, the company is targeting two areas. The primary care company, One Medical, which he acquired for $3.9 billion in health care, and a “smart home” that plans to expand its already strong presence through his $1.7 billion merger with iRobot. . Manufacturer of the popular robot vacuum cleaner Roomba.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company known for its vast collection of consumer information, the merger of the two creates a permanent shift in how Amazon collects data and what it does with that data. Privacy concerns are growing. For example, the latest line of Roombas employs sensors that map and remember your house’s floor plan.

“Roomba is getting this huge amount of data it collects about people’s homes,” said Ron Knox, an Amazon critic who works for the anti-monopoly group Community Self-Help Association. “Throughout all the other products we sell to consumers, the obvious intent is to be in your home. increase.”

Amazon’s reach goes far beyond that. By some estimates, retail giants control about 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market, allowing them to collect detailed data on the shopping preferences of millions of Americans and around the world. Meanwhile, his Echo devices powered by voice assistant Alexa dominate the U.S. smart his speaker market, accounting for about 70% of sales, according to estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Purchased by Amazon for $1 billion in 2018, Ring monitors your doorstep and helps police track crime. Also, some Amazon stores and Whole Foods are testing palm scanning technology that allows customers to store biometric data in the cloud to pay for goods, a risk of a data breach that Amazon is trying to mitigate. raises concerns about

The company says on its website that provides information about the technology, “We treat your palm signature like any other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using best-in-class technical and physical security controls. I will.”

Even consumers who actively avoid Amazon are likely to say little about how their employers are beefing up their computer networks.

Ian Greenblatt, who leads technology research at consumer research and data analytics firm JD Power, said: “It’s almost overwhelming and hard to put your finger on.”

And Amazon, like any other company, is looking to grow. In the last few years, the company acquired his Wi-Fi startup, Eero, and partnered with construction firm Lennar to offer tech-enabled homes. With iRobot, he has one more ingredient in the ultimate smart home, and of course, more data.

According to the vacuum cleaner maker, customers can prevent the iRobot device from saving the layout of their home. But data privacy advocates fear the merger is just another way Amazon will siphon information and integrate it into other devices or use it to target consumers in advertising. .

In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski denied that was what the company wanted to do.

“We do not use home maps for targeted advertising and have no plans to do so,” Levandowski said.

Whether that allays concerns is another question, especially in light of Amazon’s research on other devices. Earlier this year, a group of university researchers released a report that found voice data from Amazon’s Echo devices was being used by consumers to target ads. This is something the company has denied in the past.

Umar Iqbal, a postdoc at the University of Washington who led the study, said he and his colleagues found Echo devices running third-party Skills like Alexa’s app that communicated with advertisers.

Levandowski said consumers can opt out of receiving “interest-based” ads by adjusting their preferences on Amazon’s advertising settings page. She also said Amazon does not share her Alexa requests with ad networks.

Skills that collect personal information must post a privacy policy on their Amazon store detail page, according to the company. However, the researchers found that only 2% of his skills were clear about his data collection practices, with the majority not mentioning Alexa or Amazon at all.

For companies like Amazon, data collection is more than just data, says Kristen Martin, professor of tech ethics at the University of Notre Dame.

“You can almost see them trying to paint a wider view of the individual,” said Martin. “It’s about the inferences they can draw specifically about you, and then comparing you to others.”

For example, Amazon’s One Medical contract raised questions about how the company handles personal health data.

Levandowski said customer health information will be treated separately from all other Amazon businesses if the deal goes through. She also added that Amazon does not share personal health information outside of One Medical “for the purposes of advertising or marketing other Amazon products and services without explicit permission from customers.”

But Lucia Savage, chief privacy officer at chronic disease care provider Omada Health, said that doesn’t mean One Medical can’t get data from Amazon’s other divisions to help improve patient profiling. Information must flow in one direction, she said.

Admittedly, privacy concerns aren’t unique to Amazon. For example, after the Roe v Wade decision was overturned, Google said it would automatically remove information about users who visited abortion clinics. Meanwhile, Facebook owner Meta settled a class action lawsuit in February over its use of “cookies” to track users who logged off of her Facebook nearly a decade ago.

But unlike Meta and Google, which primarily focus on selling ads, Amazon’s main goal is to sell products, so it could potentially benefit more from data collection, he said. said Alex Harman, director of competition policy at the Antitrust Group’s Economic Security Project.

“For them, data is about getting them to buy more and be tied to what they have,” says Harman.

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