Are they listening? What Amazon knows about you

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NEW YORK — Many people have been wondering for years if their phone is listening to them. They’ll talk about shoes, and that’s when ads for shoes start popping up on their feeds.

So how does Amazon seem to know every interest you have?

Twana Wilson received an Amazon Echo Dot as a gift from her husband a few months back. But the Echo still sits in its original box.

“i just can’t bring myself to do it yet,” says Wilson. “I’m not ready for it.”

Like so many people, Wilson suspects Amazon knows too much about her, such as when she had a conversation with a friend about Paris. “The next day I had a targeted ad for booking flights to Paris,” she said.

A week later, she was talking with her husband about his Jeep, and, “Afterward I started having a stream of Jeep ads.”

Like many other Amazon Prime members, she is caught between the convenience of one-click everything and concerns about her privacy.

Recent news reports that Amazon employees listen to conversations customers have with Alexa only make those concerns worse.

According to cyber security consultant Dave Hatter, the fears make perfect sense. He says many Prime members use Amazon daily for shopping, watching movies, reading books, listening to music, and monitoring their house and baby through the Ring camera system.

Hatter says, “You couple all these things together, and suddenly they now have an enormous view into pretty much everything you are doing online. They know what you’ve read, what you’ve watched, what you did.”

For example, Hatter did an Amazon search for tool kits, and sure enough tool kit ads started appearing all over his phone and laptop.

“If I go here and click on this rotary tool kit, they know I clicked on this particular link and must be interested.”

And if you have an echo device with Alexa, Hatter says it raises a whole new set of troubling questions.

“How long are these recordings stored? Who has access to these recordings?”

To limit what Amazon knows, Hatter says there’s some simple things you can do.

  • Use a variety of electronic ecosystems, including Google and Apple, so no single system knows all your interests
  • Watch movies on Netflix or Apple TV, instead of Amazon Prime video
  • If you have Alexa, you can go into settings and delete conversations
  • Turn off your phone’s microphone for all but essential features

Amazon says its employees listen to Alexa recordings, but only to improve its voice recognition.

And both Amazon and Facebook insist they do not listen to your conversations, though many people remain very skeptical.

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