Echo interactions shape the ads we see

More and more people are using digital assistants like Amazon Echo or Alexa.

According to one estimate, there are more than 110 million devices in this category in the United States

Our interactions with these devices can shape the advertising we see elsewhere.

According to research published in April, Amazon Echo interactions have been used to help target ads on Amazon Prime, Amazon.com and several other platforms.

“Imagine tracking your pregnancy on a health skill and asking questions about it. It’s possible that these interactions could be used for targeted pregnancy-related ads,” according to Umar Iqbal, a postdoctoral researcher at the University. from Washington. who is one of the co-authors of the study.

The researchers created a series of characters based on certain interest profiles, such as fitness, religion, or politics.

Each character interacted with an Echo device.

Over time, the researchers found that the ad became more character-appropriate.

“I’m not saying literally or explicitly that I’m interested in fashion,” said Pouneh Nikkhah Bahrami, a researcher at the University of California, Davis and co-author of the study. “But my questions are fashion-related. So the device can process the data and then extract my interests. It understands that person is interested in smart devices, fashion styles, or a car.”

In an emailed statement, an Amazon spokesperson said it’s true that some interactions are used for ad targeting.

“For example, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or play a particular song on Amazon Music, recording that purchase or song may inform relevant advertisements served on Amazon or other sites where Amazon place ads,” an Amazon spokesperson said. in a written statement. “It’s not an atypical practice.”

However, the company spokesperson clarified that Amazon does not “sell customers’ personal information” or “share Alexa requests with ad networks.”

“Customers can opt out of interest-based advertising from Amazon at any time on our Advertising Preferences page,” the spokesperson said. “This includes ads served by Amazon on our devices and services like Alexa.”

The researchers say the company can do more to provide transparency between third-party skills for its smart speakers.

“Analysis shows that only two percent of sampled jurisdictions are clear about data collection practices in their privacy policies,” Bahrami said. “Amazon mentioned on their website that all of their skills have privacy policies. We haven’t seen them.”

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