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Happy Thursday everybody. I don’t know about you, but when I read that Alexa users are suing Amazon over its alleged collection of Alexa voice data, I thought: yeah, that’s no surprise.

Amazon has always been clear that if you make a purchase through Alexa, then that purchase data will be used to inform which ads it will show you. However, the lawsuit seems to suggest that Alexa is collecting and analyzing voice data from all interactions, not just purchases, and distributing that to ad tech vendors. Amazon stated that “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.”

This isn’t the first time that Amazon has been accused of eavesdropping through Alexa devices. In fact, a report from earlier this year by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University concluded that Amazon does indeed collect voice data from interactions, much like this lawsuit alleges. 

The researchers found that Amazon collected data through Alexa smart speakers and shared it with as many as 41 advertising partners, a practice that would be inconsistent with its privacy policy. Amazon denied the report’s findings and insisted, again, that only purchase-related data was used for targeted advertising purposes.

There simply isn’t a great deal of transparency over how these devices collect, handle, and disseminate user data. For companies with less-than-perfect data privacy track records, asking customers to trust their smart speakers and other internet-of-things (IoT) devices might be asking too much. Total transparency could be key to winning this trust, but it could also reduce these companies’ competitive advantage. So long as the tension between transparency and competitive advantage exists, it seems unlikely that consumers will ever gain widespread trust in IoT devices.


P.S. If you own an Alexa yourself, don’t forget to check out your Alexa privacy settings. If you use third-party skills, you’ll have to go to the developers’ website to manage your preferences from there.

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