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What does Amazon know about you?

Amazon employees collecting consumers' personal data like piecing together a puzzle

Does it ever feel like Amazon knows you better than yourself? Gives you better book suggestions than your best friend? Your favourite brands always at the top of your searches? Uncanny.

That’s because Amazon collects your personal data

Amazon amasses huge amounts of data on your behaviour when you’re using any of their products or services. You provide personal data when you set up an account (standard enough) but Amazon also amasses huge amounts of data on your behaviour when you’re using any of their products or services. For example, when you highlight sections of books on your Kindle, or download a book and do not read it, when you talk to Alexa, search for a product, stream a whole series in one night... all of this helps Amazon place you into a group with similar customers and then make spookily accurate predictions about what your purchasing preferences might be.

The first real trick is that that most of the data Amazon collects from you, you can’t help but provide. It doesn’t feel like you are submitting data when you read a book on your kindle at three in the morning, or when you give up after the introduction. Remember; they are collecting data on your behaviour, and collecting it in real time, so any way you use Amazon tells them something about you.

The second is that Amazon cleverly interprets what seems like standard or unimportant data. For example, Amazon can pretty accurately assess your income based on the shipping address you provide. And, building up a picture of how you shop, Amazon knows it’s as relevant when you search and do not buy, as when you do. This is because they are collecting comparable data on all of their millions of customers.

Big Data is what we call the huge amount and variety of data that companies like Amazon amass (that’s the first trick). Data Mining is what we call the analysis of these huge datasets to identify patterns and anomalies (that’s the second).

Amazon and even Bigger Data

If you have an Amazon account, you know that Amazon adverts have a strange way of cropping up on other sites even when you’re not using Amazon, and Amazon seems to know what you’ve been looking at on other websites. How does that happen?

According to their website, Amazon is “not in the business of selling your personal information to others”.

But sites and services you might not naturally associate with Amazon, could have access to your data. This is because Amazon often shares (not sells) your data to Third-Parties and because Amazon Services owns lots of subsidiary companies that do not take the Amazon name. This means Amazon collects some data about you from other sources, and other sources can access some of Amazon’s data on you.

Via Amazon, you may purchase products from third party sellers, download apps from third party providers, you might have enabled third party skills on your Alexa, and a third party might deliver your products.

Third party advertisers may also collect information about you when you click on their adverts or use their services.

(Amazon collects information from your advert interactions too. They say they do not use any personally identifiable information such as your name or e-mail to make interest-based advertising. But they do use cookies to monitor what adverts you interact with and so determine their effectiveness on you, as a consumer.)

Amazon also receives information about you from third parties. They may have access to a wide scope of data on how you use your accounts with merchants that they provide services to, such as advertising or fulfilment (packing and delivery).

They collect data from your search results on search engines, and data from devices you have linked to Alexa.

And, crucially, when Amazon buys a new subsidiary business, customer information is usually one of the assets transferred. So information about how you use, and have used, those services can contribute to the picture of you Amazon is building up. Some key subsidiaries include Audible, Goodreads, IMBD, Twitch, Whole Foods Market, but there are lots more.

I don’t think I agreed to this?

That’s a really common feeling. You might not have realised how extensive their data collection was and, because of the way Amazon collects your data (that pesky first trick), it can feel like Amazon is monitoring you without your permission. You probably gave your permission when you set up your account and agreed to their Terms and Conditions, or when you agreed to their Privacy Notice.

But this is the third trick. In all likelihood, you (just like me!) gave permission because if you choose not to provide access to certain information then it becomes very clunky, or even impossible, to use some Amazon Services. Big Data is crucial to Amazon’s functioning and success. The reason that Amazon services feel so convenient and quick and intuitive is because they are collecting this data. Big Data and Data Mining do provide benefits to the customer experience, but it can also feel like you are no longer in control of your data.

It’s still your data

For more information on how Amazon collects and uses your data, you can read Amazon’s full privacy notice here.

To take charge of your data, you can adjust some of your settings on your account including notification and communications preferences, advertising preferences, and your personal account information. You can disable cookies (though Amazon basically won’t work if you do). If you want, you can browse Amazon anonymously by deleting your browsing history, disabling cookies and logging out.

If you’re interested to find out what Amazon knows about you, you can issue a subject access request to see your data (and have it deleted) under GDPR law for free with Rightly here.

Let us know what you think @rightlydata!