A logo for Amazon is displayed on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite, July 27, 2018.

Amazon continues to grow. And that also applies to the data it has about you

Amazon’s billion-dollar bid to merge with Roomba’s robotic vacuum cleaner iRobot is another way for the company to get your personal information — including the floor plans of your homes, critics have warned.

The company has said it will spend $3.9 billion ($5.55 billion) on the acquisition of primary care provider One Medical and $1.7 billion on its merger with iRobot, which recently released a Roomba line that uses sensors. to map and remember house layouts.

But how safe is our data with Amazon and what does it do with it?

Amazon’s ‘intent’ to enter our homes

“It collects this huge amount of data that Roomba collects about people’s homes,” said Ron Knox of the anti-monopoly group Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“It’s clearly intended, through all the other products it sells to consumers, to be in your home.

“Along with the privacy issues come the antitrust issues, because it’s buying market share.”

Amazon’s reach extends far beyond our homes.

By some estimates, the retail giant controls about 38 percent of the U.S. e-commerce market, enabling it to collect detailed data on the shopping behavior of millions of people worldwide.

Echo devices account for about 70 percent of smart speaker sales in the US.(Supplied: iRobot)

Meanwhile, its Echo devices, which connect to the voice assistant Alexa, dominate the U.S. smart speaker market, accounting for about 70 percent of sales, according to estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Ring, which Amazon bought for $1 billion in 2018, monitors the doorsteps and helps police detect crime even when users may not know it.

And at select Amazon stores and Whole Foods, the company is testing a palm-scan technology that allows customers to pay for items by storing biometrics in the cloud, raising fears of potential data breaches that Amazon has been trying to allay. .

“We treat your palm signature just like any other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using the best technical and physical security controls,” the company says on a website that provides information about the technology.

Reach retailer ‘almost overwhelming’

Even consumers who actively shun Amazon probably still have little say in how their employers power their computer networks, which Amazon — along with Google — has long dominated through its cloud computing service AWS.

“It’s hard to imagine another organization that has as many points of contact as Amazon does with an individual,” said Ian Greenblatt, chief of technical research at JD Power, a consumer research and data analytics firm.

“It’s almost overwhelming, and it’s hard to put your finger on it.”

And Amazon – like any company – wants to grow.

In recent years, the company has bought Wi-Fi startup Eero and partnered with construction company Lennar to offer tech-powered homes.

With iRobot, it’s closer to the ultimate smart home – and more data, of course.

As Amazon grows, so does what it knows

According to the vacuum maker, customers can choose not to let iRobot devices save a layout of their home.

But data privacy advocates worry that the merger is another way Amazon could suck information to integrate into its other devices or target consumers with ads.

Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski denies that this is what the company wants to do.

“We don’t use home maps for targeted advertising and don’t plan to,” she said.

But that probably won’t allay the fear of privacy.

Earlier this year, a group of university researchers released a report showing that voice data from Amazon’s Echo devices is being used to target ads to consumers — something the company had denied in the past.

Umar Iqbal, a postdoctoral student at the University of Washington who led the study, says he and his colleagues found Echo devices with third-party capabilities, similar to Alexa apps, that communicate with advertisers.

a child holds an echo point in outstretched hands
Amazon already has access to a huge amount of our data – and it will increase if these deals go through.(AP: Mike Stewart)

Ms Levandowski says consumers can opt out of receiving “interest-based” advertising.

She also said that Amazon does not share Alexa requests with ad networks.

Skills that collect personal information are required, according to the company, to post their privacy policy on a detail page in the Amazon store.

However, researchers found that only 2 percent of Skills are clear about their data collection practices, and the vast majority don’t mention Alexa or Amazon at all.

For companies like Amazon, it’s about more than just collecting data, says Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame.

“You can almost tell they’re just trying to paint a broader picture of a person,” Ms. Martin says.

“It’s about the inferences they can draw about you specifically, and then about you compared to other people.”

a ring doorbell installed on a weatherboard house
Amazon bought Ring in 2018 for $1 billion.(AP: Jessica Hill)

For example, how does Amazon handle personal health data with the One Medical deal?

If the deal closes, Ms Levandowski says customers’ health information will be treated separately from all other Amazon companies.

She adds that Amazon would not share personal health information outside of One Medical for “advertising or marketing other Amazon products and services without clear customer consent.”

But Lucia Savage, a chief privacy officer at chronic care provider Omada Health, says this doesn’t mean One Medical can’t get data from other branches of Amazon’s company, which could help it better profile its patients.

The information should only flow in one direction, she says.

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