Series / What They Know About You

What Amazon knows about you

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Depending on how much you shop, watch and read with Amazon, the e-commerce behemoth may know more about you than any other company on earth.

The big picture: Naturally, they know what you've browsed or bought on their main service. They also know what you've asked Alexa, watched on Prime, and read on your Kindle. They know even more thanks to their ownership of Whole Foods, Ring, Eero, Twitch, Goodreads, IMDB and Audible.

Details: As with Google or Facebook, what Amazon knows depend on how much you rely on its services. That said, these days Amazon's services are all around us. Here are some of the different types of information gathered by various Amazon services.

  • Amazon.com: Everything you have bought, plus the things you have just put in your cart, or searched for, or added to a wish list, or just browsed on Amazon (and Amazon-owned sites like Zappos and Diapers.com). And they know all of your addresses and the names and addresses of anyone you've ever sent stuff to.
  • Kindle (digital books) and Audible (audio books): All the books you've read, plus how far into the book you got. Amazon also knows which books you have browsed or sampled, and what passages you've highlighted in Kindle.
  • Fire tablets: Amazon's tablets run a custom version of Android, providing the company with lots of data since it, not Google, powers the browsing and app store on the devices. For search, users have a choice of Bing, Yahoo, Google or DuckDuckGo.
  • Prime Video (streaming video): What you've watched, browsed and search for.
  • Twitch (streaming game videos): What you've watched, browsed and searched for.
  • Ring (smart doorbells and security gear): For customers with a paid recording plan, Amazon stores videos for 30 to 120 days depending on location, or until a customer manually deletes the video. Recordings for those who don't subscribe to a plan are deleted automatically unless a customer posts a video to the publicly available Neighbors app.
  • Eero (wi-fi routers): One of Amazon's most recent acquisitions, Eero sells a mesh wi-fi router system. To do its job, like any home router, Eero's device knows every Web site you go to, but the company says it doesn't collect or store this information. (Eero detailed its practices in a blog post after the Amazon acquisition.)
  • IMDB (movie and TV database): Although this is probably one of the lesser privacy concerns in Amazon world, your taste in movies can say a lot about you.
  • Goodreads (book-centric social network): The focus may be on books, but Amazon is also building a social graph of the service's bookworm members, in addition to getting more details on what sort of topics members are interested in.
  • Whole Foods (grocery store): Now that Amazon owns the upscale supermarket, if you shop here Amazon knows your grocery list, too. Whole Foods already offers deals to Prime members, linking the purchases of its best online customers with those buying offline.

Alexa

Amazon's virtual assistant is worthy of its own section as its implications are so broad. Of course Alexa knows all the things you ask it — but that's only the beginning.

  • Amazon isn't recording everything you say, but rather starts recording when it hears Alexa summoned via a specific wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo). But there are instances where Alexa gets activated inadvertently and collects audio you had no intention of sending Amazon's way.

One recent controversy arose over just who at Amazon is listening to these audio snippets and for what purpose. Bloomberg reported in April that a team of Amazon workers and contractors across the globe listens to consumers conversations with Alexa, stoking existing concerns about a device that is always listening.

  • Amazon told Axios that it only reviews "an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience," including improvements to speech recognition, and that access to such data is tightly controlled and limited to a small number of employees.
  • A limited number of employees also have access to location information in order to improve location-specific features, such as "Where is the nearest coffee shop?" (Click here for more on the Alexa-specific privacy policy.)

What else

Key by Amazon: An optional delivery service for Prime members that literally invites the Everything Store into your home, car or garage to deliver goods ordered online. Amazon stresses that no one enters your premises without explicit permission, that delivery personnel don't themselves get access codes, and all of them undergo background checks.

Amazon Go: The company's cashier-less stores rely on deep surveillance of its aisles to allow customers to buy products without a formal checkout process. To do that, Amazon uses an array of cameras and sensors to determine who is taking what off the shelves.

Advertising: One of Amazon's fastest-growing businesses is serving up ads, a testament to just how much it knows about you.

  • Amazon says: "We create audience segments and serve interest-based ads based on a variety of anonymized shopping activities such as browse and purchase behaviors."
  • Amazon says it sometimes includes third-party audience information to increase the relevance of its ads.
  • But Amazon gives customers the opportunity to opt out by selecting “do not show me interest-based ads from Amazon” on its advertising preferences page.

Amazon Web Services: Amazon's cloud-computing service leads the market, capturing 32% of the global spend. But, as is the norm in the cloud industry, Amazon doesn't access any of the data stored on its services by businesses, with limited exceptions for court orders or security investigations.

What you can do

  • Delete your browsing history. Amazon offers some options to limit its information- gathering. For example, you can delete your browsing history and turn off the collection of browsing data.
  • Mute Alexa and delete recordings. Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo devices have a physical microphone-off button that can be pressed to ensure no recording takes place. Amazon also offers an option to delete the Alexa recordings it has made.
  • Choose alternatives. No other store offers quite as broad a selection as Amazon, but there are other mega-stores, such as Target and Walmart, as well as other options for digital media, smart home gear and physical retail outlets.

Go deeper: Read the rest of the series.

Additional Stories

Coronavirus cases rise as 14 American evacuees infected

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

14 Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the novel coronavirus before being flown in a "specialist containment" on a plane repatriating U.S. citizens back home, the U.S. government said early Monday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 1,775 people and infected more than 70,000 others. Most cases and all but five of the deaths have occurred in mainland China.

GM to exit Australia, New Zealand and Thailand

GM's Holden brand is popular among racing fans down under, and it's been a regular fixture at events like the Bathurst 1000 V8 Supercar Race in Australia. Photo: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

General Motors is retiring its Holden brand from sales in Australia and New Zealand and winding down operations in the two countries and Thailand by 2021, the company confirmed in a statement Monday.

Why it matters: The Holden brand has been in Australia and New Zealand for 160 years, per a GM statement issued in Australia. It is beloved by many motor racing fans down under. Holden produced Australia's first wholly locally made car in 1948.

In photos: Deadly Storm Dennis lashes U.K., Ireland and western France

A family is rescued from a property in Nantgarw, Wales, on Sunday. The storm comes a week after the U.K. was battered by storm Ciara, which killed two people, per the BBC. Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Storm Dennis continued to pummel parts of England, Wales and Ireland over Sunday night with heavy rain after battering Northern Ireland and Scotland, per the official British weather agency the Met Office.

Why it matters: It's the second-strongest nontropical storm ever recorded in the North Atlantic Ocean, with its hurricane-force winds and heavy rains that caused widespread flooding across the U.K., the Washington Post notes. Police in Wales confirmed Sunday they found the body of a man who fell into a river as the storm lashed Ystradgynlais.

Sanders accuses Bloomberg of trying to "buy" the 2020 election

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. Photos: Drew Angerer; Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders tore into 2020 rival Michael Bloomberg at a Las Vegas campaign event Saturday, saying the billionaire and former New York mayor is trying to "buy the presidency" by paying millions of dollars in advertising.

Why it matters: Bloomberg has surged in national polling recently, having poured millions of dollars into campaign ads largely targeting Trump. His candidacy has become an obvious foil for Sanders, whose grassroots campaign railing against billionaires and the establishment has vaulted him to front-runner status.

What we know: Mississippi braces for intense flooding as Pearl River swells

Floodwaters are slowly on the rise in areas around the Pearl River. Photo: City of Jackson/Twitter

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has declared a state of emergency as authorities brace for "historic" floods, with days of rain expected, as the Pearl River continues to swell in and around the state capital, Jackson.

What's happening: Evacuations have already begun, and the river isn't expected to crest until Monday. Reeves described the situation as precarious. "We expect water to stay in the area for 2-3 days, with rain throughout the week," he tweeted.

Scoop: Inside the Trump campaign's big hedge on Facebook

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Trump campaign has invested most of its advertising budget to date on Facebook, testing thousands of versions of ads per day to maximize its spending.

But behind the scenes, a source familiar with the campaign tells Axios, the thinking has shifted: "As everyone can see, we still have strong spending on Facebook, but the percentage of our total media budget [on Facebook] is shrinking."

Trump's revenge tour has the House in its sights

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Contributor

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections — buoyed by Republican control of both chambers — President Trump viewed campaigning for the House as a lower-tier priority and instead poured his energy into rallying for the Senate.

But after the GOP reckoning in 2018, and experiencing firsthand how damaging a Democratic-led House has been to him, Trump is now personally invested in helping Republicans regain the majority in November, several people familiar with his thinking tell Axios.

Pelosi warns U.S. allies against working with China's Huawei

Nancy Pelosi, Feb. 16. Photo: Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday cautioned U.S. allies against allowing Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to develop their 5G networks, arguing at the Munich Security Conference that doing so is akin to “choosing autocracy over democracy," CNBC reports.

Why it matters: Pelosi's hawkish stance marks a rare area of agreement with the Trump administration, which believes Huawei is a national security threat because the Chinese government may be capable of accessing its equipment for espionage.

Read more at Axios
© Copyright Axios 2020