We may finally know what all those Amazon boxes are smirking about.
The company has been waging a “secret war on Americans’ privacy,” gathering massive amounts of data on millions of Americans and fighting data privacy protections proposed in state and federal laws, according to a recent special investigative report from Reuters.
Some of the data is “highly sensitive,” Reuters says, before going on to describe examples, which include voice recordings of young children asking Amazon’s voice-assistant technology, Alexa, about topics usually reserved for sex education.
The publication got a look at confidential documents in which Amazon executives bragged about their victories in lobbying for looser restrictions or exemptions from privacy protections, allowing them to collect more data. That data has helped the company grow more quickly and gain an advantage in new technologies, Reuters says.
In a statement, Amazon described those confidential documents as “early, incomplete drafts” and said the premise of Reuters’ report “is flawed.”
The report lays out several sources through which Amazon gathers data on customers, including these:
- Voice recordings (through devices like Echo smart speakers)
- Videos from home-camera systems (like the Ring security camera)
- Personal health data from fitness trackers (like the Halo wristband)
- Searching and buying habits on Amazon.com
- Kindle e-readers
- Audible audiobooks
- Amazon Prime Video
- Amazon Music
Taken together, this information can create a kind of profile about people. According to Reuters:
“Such information can reveal a person’s height, weight and health; their ethnicity (via clues contained in voice data) and political leanings; their reading and buying habits; their whereabouts on any given day, and sometimes whom they have met.”
The data can get highly specific. For example, Kindle data can include how long you spent reading an e-book down to the millisecond, as well as any words you highlighted or looked up.
In some cases, Reuters found that Alexa devices were even able to pull data from non-Amazon devices, including phone calendar data.
It is possible to opt out of some data collection such as stored voice recordings through settings, Amazon told Reuters. Americans can also request their data from Amazon — the company explains how on its “Request Your Personal Information” page.
How to change your Amazon data settings
As Reuters reports, Amazon doesn’t necessarily make it easy to opt out of data collection. But if you have an Alexa device, you might want to start by reviewing Amazon’s Alexa privacy resources.
If you have a Fire TV device, Fire tablet or Kindle e-reader, Amazon has directions for opting out of collection or processing of the following types of data:
- Device usage data
- App usage data
- Over-the-air viewing data
You also can opt out of Amazon's interest-based ads.