Digging Into Amazon's Privacy Policy

Amazon has developed a reputation for delivering some of the lowest prices for all types of products, and one of the best delivery systems in the world. Part of what makes this possible is Amazon’s extensive use of people’s data. We’re taking a look at which information Amazon collects and how it collects that information.

What Information Does Amazon Collect About It’s Customers?

  • Information You Give Amazon: You provide information to Amazon when you search on its sites, buy products, post reviews, participate in a contest or questionnaire, or communicate with customer service. Amazon is free to use any information you add to your account or profile.
  • Automatic Information: Amazon collects and analyzes information like your IP address, your e-mail address, password, computer and browser type, version and time zone settings, which browser add-ons you’re using and your purchase history. Amazon gathers this information automatically for any interaction you may have with Amazon.com and affiliated services.
  • Location of Your Mobile Device: When you install Amazon apps on your mobile device, you are sharing your device’s location with Amazon. Amazon’s Privacy Notice explains that most mobile devices allow users to disable location services, but doesn’t give users the ability to opt out directly on its site.
  • Email Communications: Amazon tracks when you open emails from Amazon.com to determine the effectiveness of its email marketing. It also compares its customer list to lists that other companies share with Amazon “to avoid sending unnecessary messages to our customers.”
  • Information from “Other Sources”: Amazon is pretty vague about which information is included in this category. It does, however, explain that this information includes personally identifiable information, payment settings, notification settings, recommendations, shopping lists and your profile.
  • Amazon Uses Cookies: Amazon uses cookies to identify your device and recognize that you are a returning user. These provide some convenience, like keeping items in your Shopping Cart between visits or showing relevant ads, but are still a method for identifying you.

Where Does Amazon Get Information About You?

Amazon collects information about people using Amazon.com, and all of the small subsidiaries that Amazon controls. Amazon’s impressive efficiency is due to the company collecting and analyzing data from nearly every interaction it has with its customers.
Amazon Subsidiaries:
  • Audible.com
  • Goodreads
  • Ring
  • Twitch
  • Whole Foods Market

Amazon Interest-Based Ads

When you visit an Amazon-owned and operated site or unaffiliated sites, Amazon serves “interest-based” ads. These ads are personalized, or targeted, based on your past purchases, any sites you’ve visited that contain Amazon content, your interactions with any Amazon services and use of Amazon’s payment system. Amazon also operates its own advertising network, which accounted for $3.4 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018. The company plans to expand its advertising services and marketing technology infrastructure so brands can reach their customers more efficiently on Amazon. Amazon has a unique position in the advertising industry because it has so much data about people’s purchase behavior. It can use all this data to predict when people are likely to make purchases, and serve ads at the best moment.

Does Amazon Share Your Information With Third Parties?

While Amazon gets great value out of the data it collects from each of its customers, it also shares that information with third parties. Amazon discloses in it’s privacy notice that it shares your information with the following groups:
  • Affiliated Businesses Not Controlled by Amazon: Amazon shares some of your information with sellers who use Amazon’s Marketplace. Amazon gives examples, including Starbucks, OfficeMax, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and Eddie Bauer.
  • Third-Party Services: Third-party service providers that Amazon hires to complete certain functions on its behalf have access to the information that’s necessary to complete their tasks. Amazon says that these services may not use this information for any other purposes.
  • Promotional Offers: Amazon may send promotional offers on behalf of other businesses. In these cases, Amazon doesn’t give that business your name and address, but it doesn’t say which information it does share.
  • Business Transfers: In the event that Amazon buys or sells another business, some information will be transferred from Amazon to the new business or vice-versa. Even if information is transferred to a new business, it will still be subject to the promises made in any pre-existing privacy claims.
  • Fraud Detection and Legal Obligations: If Amazon is approached by law enforcement to release certain information, it will release as much is necessary to comply with any legal obligations. In addition, Amazon may also release information to other companies for fraud protection purposes. This type of sharing does not include selling, renting, sharing or otherwise disclosing personally identifiable information from customers for commercial purposes that would otherwise violate other claims of Amazon’s privacy statement.
  • With Your Consent: Amazon states that if your information is to be shared with third parties, you will be given notice and have the opportunity to opt out of that type of sharing.

What Do Alexa Devices Know About You?

Amazon has confirmed that it retains your Alexa voice recordings indefinitely, which is concerning considering the cases when Alexa devices have recorded every conversation a user has. One user in Germany requested his personal data from Amazon, and was presented with 1,700 audio recordings of someone he didn’t know. This is concerning because this user didn’t even own an Alexa device. Alexa devices require users login to an Amazon account before their device will work, so any information that the device collects will be linked back to your Amazon account. Amazon’s smart home devices, including Alexa and Echo, are just another interaction point for Amazon to collect information about the people who use these products.

Amazon’s Stance on Facial Recognition

Amazon has publicly opposed covert government surveillance, however according to Freedom of Information requests it has supplied facial recognition support to law enforcement in the form of the Rekognition technology and consulting services. It’s instances like this that drive people’s distrust of platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon. It’s unfortunate that Amazon hasn’t been transparent about it’s use of facial recognition, because it does have some exciting uses that could make people’s shopping much more efficient.

Is Amazon Creating a “Panopticon”?

Are we all just moving towards being trapped in a system totally controlled by Amazon?
"We’re all hoping they’re not making a panopticon,” says Lindsey Barret, staff attorney at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation. A panopticon is a circular prison where all prisoners can be monitored at all times by a single guard. We could end up trapped in a system where Amazon is completely controlling our purchases and we don’t even understand how they’re doing so.
According to Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, in The Guardian people “want protection, and they want alternatives. We need laws and regulation designed to advantage companies that want to break with surveillance capitalism.” Media outlets have discussed regulating tech companies like Amazon extensively, but there has yet to be any action that changes the ways these companies operate. There have yet to be any meaningful moves to limit the large tech companies that are using our data to influence our behavior.
Amazon’s Privacy Notice gives a fairly complete explanation of how the company collects and uses our data, but there are some vague areas that need addressing.


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