Ibraheem Samirah has examined internet privacy issues and argued how to govern tech companies’ gathering of personal data as a member of the Virginia legislature. Even so, he was taken aback when he learned the entire extent of the data Amazon.com Inc had on him.
From his phone, the e-commerce behemoth had over 1,000 contacts. It included records of whatever part of the Quran Samirah, a Muslim, had listened to on Dec. 17 of last year. Every search he made on the site was tracked by the corporation, including one for books on “progressive community organising” and other sensitive health-related inquiries he assumed were confidential.
“Are they selling products, or are they spying on everyday people?” asked Samirah, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Samirah was one of the few Virginia legislators who voted against an industry-friendly state privacy measure designed by Amazon that was passed earlier this year. Samirah sought Amazon to reveal the data it has on him as a customer at the request of Reuters.
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The corporation collects a tremendous amount of data about its users in the United States, and it began making that data public to anybody who requests it early last year, after failing to overturn a 2018 California law requiring such disclosures. (Amazon customers in the United States can get their data by filling out a form on Amazon)
Seven Reuters journalists also got their hands on their Amazon files. The information exposes the company’s capacity to compile incredibly personal pictures of individual customers.
Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, its e-commerce marketplace, Kindle e-readers, Audible audiobooks, its video and music platforms, home security cameras, and fitness trackers all collect data on customers. Inside people’s homes, Alexa-enabled gadgets make recordings, and Ring security cameras record every visitor.
Such data can reveal a person’s height, weight, and health; their ethnicity and political leanings (through clues in voice data); their reading and shopping habits; their whereabouts on any given day; and, in certain cases, who they have met.