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Security & privacy

Report says Alexa voice data used to send you targeted ads – How to stop it now

Have you ever wondered why Amazon often offers such great deals on its Echo smart speakers and displays? It’s easy — those gadgets are cheap because your data is far more valuable.

It’s no secret that devices powered by Alexa and other smart assistants have been known to listen in, even when they’re not supposed to be. And Amazon knows so much about you, it’s scary. Tap or click here to see what we mean.

Now a shocking new report confirms it’s creepier than we thought, that our voice recordings are also being used to send you targeted ads wherever you go online. Here’s what to do about it.

Here’s the backstory

When you ask Amazon’s Alexa to play a song or where you can buy something, you probably don’t expect that data to filter into your browser-based Amazon shopping experience. Not so, says a report from researchers at the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University.

Whatever information you ask Alexa is not only collected by Amazon and third-party tracking services, but also shared with as many as 40 advertising partners. The companies then use your data to build a profile on your habits and interests, leading to specific targeted advertising. Why are we not surprised?

But it gets worse. Alexa incorporates third-party “Skills,” which can be anything from custom alarms and timers to multi-room audio and cooking instructions. Well, researchers found that Amazon also uses the data from these Skills to build up your targeted advertising profile.

According to the report, more than 70% of Skills don’t mention data collection from Amazon or Alexa, and “only 10 (2.2%) skills are clear about data collection practices in their privacy policies.”

The undisclosed data collection raises questions about your privacy and how Amazon handles your data. Of all the smart speakers available, research by Reviews.org found that Alexa collects the most data on you — even more than Google Assistant.

However, the most recent report also points out that “Amazon restricts skills from collecting sensitive information” and that Amazon imposes “a set of platform policies to mitigate potential privacy risks.” They’ve always been so truthful …

What you can do about it

If you’re fed up, unplug your Echo devices and kick them to the curb. Just know that even if you do, your smartphone, computer and even your smart TV tries to collect data in order to hit you with more targeted advertising.

However, there are a few things that you can do to limit the reach of targeted advertising with your Amazon gadgets, and that starts with opting out. Here’s how to do that:

For Alexa devices, there are more settings you might want to change.

  • Open the Alexa app on your mobile phone.
  • Tap Manage Settings, then Alexa Privacy.

This is the central location where you manage privacy on Alexa. You can control your voice recordings, manage your home device state history and update the Alexa Skills you’ve granted permission to access specific data. You can also access the settings on your browser by going to Alexa Privacy Settings.

It’s always safe to assume your smart tech is listening. Our handy gadgets can make life more convenient but to Big Tech, those aren’t products. We are.

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