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The data game: what Amazon knows about you and how to stop it


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The Guardian


The tech giant has many ways of gathering information about its users’ activity – from Prime to Alexa. But how much can it collect and what can you do to keep your life private?


From selling books out of Jeff Bezos’s garage to a global conglomerate with a yearly revenue topping $400bn (£290bn), much of the monstrous growth of Amazon has been fuelled by its customers’ data. Continuous analysis of customer data determines, among other things, prices, suggested purchases and what profitable own-label products Amazon chooses to produce. The 200 million users who are Amazon Prime members are not only the corporation’s most valuable customers but also their richest source of user data. The more Amazon and services you use – whether it’s the shopping app, the Kindle e-reader, the Ring doorbell, Echo smart speaker or the Prime streaming service – the more their algorithms can infer what kind of person you are and what you are most likely to buy next. The firm’s software is so accomplished at prediction that third parties can hire its algorithms as a service called Amazon Forecast.

Not everyone is happy about this level of surveillance. Those who have requested their data from Amazon are astonished by the vast amounts of information they are sent, including audio files from each time they speak to the company’s voice assistant, Alexa.

Like its data-grabbing counterparts Google and Facebook, Amazon’s practices have come under the scrutiny of regulators. Last year, Amazon was hit with a $886.6m (£636m) fine for processing personal data in violation of EU data protection rules, which it is appealing against. And a recent Wired investigation showed concerning privacy and security failings at the tech giant.

So, what data does Amazon collect and share and what can you do to stop it?

The data Amazon collects, according to its privacy policy

Strict EU regulation in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and UK equivalent the Data Protection Act limit the ways personal data can be used in Europe compared with the US. But, according to Amazon’s privacy policy, the tech giant still collects a large amount of information. This covers three areas: information you give Amazon, data it collects automatically and information from other sources such as delivery data from carriers.

Amazon can collect your name, address, searches and recordings when you speak to the Alexa voice assistant. It knows your orders, content you watch on Prime, your contacts if you upload them and communications with it via email. Meanwhile, when you use its website, cookie trackers are used to “enhance your shopping experience” and improve its services, Amazon says.:snip:

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