Amazon is Tracking You! Here’s How You Can Stop Them
Amazon has become a household name. But the significance of Amazon can vary from household to household. Some families love getting packages in two days or less, watching original series, and using Alexa to manage their household. Some see Amazon as a dark hydra of corrupt capitalism squeezing out small businesses, disenfranchising its own employees, and profiting off the pandemic. Meanwhile, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spent 5.5 billion dollars to spend 4 minutes weightless in space.
The reason he was able to become one of the richest people in the world is the data that Amazon has collected about you.
Amazon keeps all your data
What started as an online bookseller has expanded into a worldwide marketplace. Amazon sells everything from groceries to digital products like Kindles and cloud storage space. It has its own streaming channel and music platform. Amazon even facilitates creating your own business through their marketplace.
But one major secret to their success is the startling amount of data they have collected about you. We all hear about websites logging where we come from or where we go online. But if you do anything on Amazon.com or with any Amazon product you should assume it’s being cataloged and saved for later.
Don’t believe us? Submit a data access request. This feature is an escalation in the wake of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which is similar to California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), where people were able to legally request the information that Amazon has on them. The results are incredible (in a bad way).
If you decide to do a data access request, spoiler alert: you will receive hundreds of zip files with everything from where you click your mouse to the SKU codes of things you bought in the last decade, to how many times you’ve asked Alexa to play “The Thong Song.” This is all being stored on Amazon databases. Now, yes, companies do often collect data to better optimize their sales. But the amount of information Amazon collects about you crosses a bit of a line.
These tweets by some users who put through data requests are startling:
It’s disturbing to think what the value of keeping all this information is. Well, it helps Amazon more effectively sell to you. It helps them manage what they do and do not show you. It can help them learn how to not only effectively market to you but also see how they can sell you things. And honestly, a lot of the information collected by Alexa or your search history can be super private and personal. It’s also scary to think that if you stumble onto Amazon without any purchase intent, all of those interactions are being recorded anyway.
How ethical is all of this?
Lots of businesses collect data and analytics. Marketing firms collect information to more effectively serve you ads, cell phone apps use trackers to market to you. But this amount of data does seem excessive. It also calls into question how much of it might be used to manipulate us. If you have ads for something you like that follow you across all devices all over the Internet, are you more likely to buy it?
Jeff Bezos said in a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law:
“Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and a constant desire to delight customers drives us to constantly invent on their behalf. As a result, by focusing obsessively on customers, we are internally driven to improve our services, add benefits and features, invent new products, lower prices, and speed up shipping times—before we have to.”
That sounds great in theory. But that is also a statement crafted by a legal defense team to try and preserve business as usual at Amazon. The fact that there are concerns of antitrust law is important. According to Time Magazine, part of what helped Amazon survive the pandemic and cover the cost of their budding grocery business are other aspects of their business — namely their cloud hosting business.
If they have a blank check to compete in every industry, what is to stop Amazon from messing with the prices and squeezing out competitors only to raise prices?
What does Amazon do with all that power?
If Amazon has so much power, how do we know they have the best intentions? Their business might not just border on a monopoly but a bit on Big Brother. Amazon is able to collect information on where you come from when you visit their site and where you go to after. If all of your actions on their sites and devices are being tracked, they’re essentially surveilling you.
When you add the fact that they can check your financials if you apply for a card or to confirm transactions they know a ton about. And they can share this information with any of their subsidiaries or other parts of their business.
Amazon is constantly the subject of problematic stories in the news. Their reach and power does give them a competitive edge, and that’s just fair business. But what about them using the data they collect to create competing white-labeled versions of successful products? They’re using the data they gather to squeeze out the people who use their service to run a business. If they’re concern is happy customers and growth, why do their employees have to pee in water bottles?
Regardless of the problematic aspects of Amazon, this is a lot of information. California’s passing of the CCPA, and other states rolling out similar legislation, is to protect every web user from having their privacy violated by online tracking. These questionable business practices do call into question what Amazon might do with all of this information.
How can you stop it?
The only way to definitively stop Amazon from collecting information is to stop using the website. That may be impossible especially if you’re a fan of The Boys or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Plus, who can beat two-day shipping? But there are a few other options. You can always delete your Amazon account and start a new one to limit some of this information they have already collected. You can also be more mindful of how you use this new account.
In your settings, you’ll want to turn off Advertising Cookies, and any personalization. This is pretty good practice with any of your online accounts as well, not just Amazon. While some personalization is helpful or provides a smoother experience it also means all this recorded data can be retained by these companies and/or be used by their third-party partners. And who are these third-parties?
Another thing to consider is using a private browser like Tor when using Amazon. You should also consider using your VPN. With your VPN, you also may be able to see how prices can vary based on your location and region. This may change how excited you are to spend money or help you save a few bucks.
Amazon is a mainstay in many homes. But so are processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup. They may not all be good for us but we should know the risks. We should be aware of how much we are being surveilled and how much of our information is being saved and used to market to us. Until more states or the federal government pass more privacy legislation, it’s important to do your best to protect your privacy from companies who want to use it against you.
- Easy Prey Podcast
- General Topics
- Home Computing
- IP Addresses
- Online Privacy
- Online Safety
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