‘Hey Alexa, will you bow to any sponsor?’
A new Alexa feature has been announced at the Amazon Accelerate conference called “Customers Ask Alexa,” which allows brands to submit their own answers to questions you may ask the device.
One such example was “How can I remove pet hair from my carpet?” which would usually provide generic tips or advice pulled from the web. Now, as reported by TechCrunch, brands can submit their own answers (presumably in the form of recommending their own products) and link the inquirer to their Amazon storefront.
Popping ads into top search results is nothing new, of course. It’s a huge part of Google’s business, and Apple has grown more aggressive with advertising within the App Store, even as users and developers report it makes it harder for people to find what they’re looking for as the top recommendations reflect the highest bidder instead of the best result. Voice interactions from Echo devices are also already being used to target consumers with ads, sharing the data about their requests (without the voice recordings themselves) with as many as 41 advertising partners.
“Amazon recognizes brands as experts on their products,” said Rajiv Mehta, general manager of Alexa Shopping at Amazon. “With this new capability, we have made it easier for brands to connect with customers to help answer common questions and better inform their purchase decisions.”
How to opt out of targeted ads with Alexa
Alexa customers can opt out of interest-based ads from Amazon on its Advertising Preferences Page. While there is no mention here of Echo devices, Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild confirmed to The Verge that it does include ads on devices and services such as Alexa.
For Alexa devices, there are additional privacy controls managed through Settings > Alexa Privacy in the Alexa app or at amazon.com/alexaprivacysettings. Here, you can see and manage your voice recordings as well as manage the permissions granted to skills. To manage third-party skills advertising preferences, you will need to go to their app or website.
All answers will need to go through Alexa’s content moderation and quality checks before the most appropriate option is selected, though that doesn’t ease my concerns that this is a system that has the potential to be abused. The feature will be available in Seller Central for a select group of brands beginning October 2022 on an invite-only basis initially, with plans to roll out to all eligible brands in the US in 2023.
As if the idea of your speaker spitting out adverts wasn’t annoying enough, another announcement from the same event reveals that Amazon could also soon allow brands and merchants you’ve purchased from to email you directly.
Where Amazon previously only allowed sellers to contact customers who had willingly opted to follow brands or stores, the new Tailored Audiences feature will permit third-party sellers and brands to run personalized email marketing campaigns across three new groups: repeat customers, high-spend customers, and recent customers. Amazon is currently testing Tailored Audiences in a beta program, and the company plans to make it available to all US sellers in early 2023.