Alexa users are suing Amazon over claims that the voice assistant app is targeting users with ads relevant to private recordings of users’ conversations.
The central complaint. The main complaint of Alexa users is that the voice assistant is wrongly using voice recordings captured by Alexa to target ads.
“The central theory of this lawsuit is that Amazon uses Alexa voice recordings (i.e., the captured sound of a user’s voice) to serve interest-based ads to that user. In their complaint, plaintiffs conspicuously never allege facts showing that Amazon uses Alexa recordings to serve interest-based ads (because they have no good-faith basis for that allegation),” the company adds. “The complaint instead uses the intentionally vague term ‘voice data’ for the notion that certain transaction data resulting from Alexa interactions is sometimes used for advertising. Yes, it is, and Amazon widely and clearly discloses that fact.”
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein
The plaintiff’s suit. Ohio resident James Gray and Massachusetts resident Scott Horton brought the class-action complaint against Amazon for allegedly using “Alexa-collected voice data” for ad targeting. They raised several claims, including that Amazon violated users’ privacy, and that it engaged in misleading and unfair conduct.
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What Amazon says. Amazon said “it “is not in the business of selling data,” and doesn’t share Alexa requests with ad networks.
The company added: “Similar to what you’d experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or to play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song play may inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads.”
Amazon urged judge Rothstein to dismiss the lawsuit claiming that even if the allegations were true, there wouldn’t be any proof that the company sed voice recordings for ad purposes.
Amazon also said “If a customer buys dog toys from Amazon, that fact can be used to generate interest-based ads, regardless of whether the customer ordered by typing on amazon.com or speaking a voice command to an Alexa-enabled device,” the company wrote. “But records of the customer’s transactions, whatever the input medium, are different from Alexa voice recordings or transcripts themselves.”
They added “When a customer uses a physical keyboard to make a purchase on amazon.com, the data from that transaction is not ‘derived from’ the customer’s typing, nor would anyone argue that Amazon is ‘using’ that person’s keystrokes,” Amazon argues. “Similarly, if someone types a purchase command into the Alexa app, the transaction data associated with that command is captured and might be used for advertising (as Amazon widely discloses).”
Why we care. With cookies disappearing in 2024, privacy is at the forefront of ad platforms and advertisers’ strategies to deliver relevant ads to an audience that may or may not become harder to reach. But Amazon’s blatant disregard for users’ personal space and private conversations goes beyond cookies and into a realm that’s just plain invasive.
I’ll be curious to see if Amazon is held liable for these claims and what the company does to remedy the situation as users become more aware, and intolerant of privacy abuse.
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