How Much Does Amazon Really Know About You?

Your Amazon Dossier Is Growing

In June of 2014, Amazon released its own version of a smartphone. The marketing for the Amazon Fire Phone promises everything your typical smartphone can do.

You can connect to the Internet. You can download apps. You can even stream music and video from Amazon Prime.

But what you might not know, is that it’s also doing what Amazon does best … gathering details about what you’re interested in. Amazon does this in order to sell you more things. John Koetsier, of Venture Beat, calls the Amazon Fire Phone, “the biggest single invasion of your privacy for commercial purposes ever.”

Part of the reason for concern is a new function unique to Amazon’s phone. It’s called Firefly. It can use the camera in your phone to identify more than 100 million objects in real time. You can use it to add items to your Amazon wish list.

It doesn’t just identify objects. It can pick out songs, and read written text. It can even recognize phone numbers…

Amazon Gets 2 out 6

Stars for Protecting Your Privacy

Anything you capture with the Firefly function is immediately uploaded to Amazon’s cloud. There, it will be analyzed for insights into what you might be likely to buy. In the process of training you to become a more streamlined shopper, they are certainly gathering a lot of your personal data … enough to put together a pretty good profile of you, I bet.

It’s important to note that you can use the camera separately from Firefly, so Amazon is not automatically collecting your personal photographs or video clips.

But just because your camera doesn’t automatically upload photos to the Amazon cloud, it doesn’t mean it’s not an option. Actually, Amazon encourages it by offering free photo storage to Fire Phone users.

Do you think they analyze those photos to get a better idea about your shopping needs? I’m betting they do.

Oh, and I almost forget to mention… Firefly records ambient audio, too, in case you need it to identify a song in the background.

Again, that’s a lot of your personal data in the hands of a big company.

So far, Amazon has been pretty up front about what they’re doing with their Fire Phone. If they get customers who are comfortable with all of it, more power to them.

But, before you run out to get your Fire Phone, I have a couple of other things you may want to consider…

When It Comes to Data Protection
Amazon Falls Short

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a privacy pressure group. That means they want organizations in both the private and public sector to a do a better job of:

  1. Not gathering massive amounts of data about citizens
  2. Protecting the data that they do collect

EFF puts together an annual report analyzing various companies. They specifically focus on how well each company does at keeping your private data safe from government intrusions.

Amazon ranks low. Out of a possible six stars, it earns only two.Amazon only recently started insisting on a government warrant to comply with data requests. While they’ve promised to begin alerting users to data requests, EFF can’t confirm that they’ve followed through on that yet. Amazon also does not publish transparency reports or the guidelines it uses for working with law enforcement.

Bottom line, you can’t really count on Amazon to keep your personal details safe … at least not where Uncle Sam is concerned.

In this case, avoiding this particular massive data collection scheme is easy. Don’t switch to a Fire Phone. And if you do, be very careful how much you use the Firefly feature and what you use it for.


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