Archive for Amazon

Amazon Uses Alexa Voice Data To Target You With Ads

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 30, 2022 by itnerd

One of the reasons why I use Apple products is the fact that they appear to be privacy focused. I value my privacy and many others do. Which is why this report released last week that says that Amazon uses voice data from its Echo devices to serve targeted ads on its own platforms and the web:

The report, produced by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University, said the ways Amazon does this is inconsistent with its privacy policies. Titled, “Your Echos are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem,” the report concludes that Amazon and third parties (including advertising and tracking services) collect data from your interactions with Alexa through Echo smart speakers and share it with as many as 41 advertising partners. That data is then used to “infer user interests” and “serve targeted ads on-platform (Echo devices) as well as off-platform (web).” It also concludes that this type of data is in hot demand, leading to “30X higher ad bids from advertisers.” 

Amazon confirmed to The Verge that it does use voice data from Alexa interactions to inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads. “Similar to what you’d experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or to play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song play may inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads.” Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild said in an email. 

The company also confirmed there are targeted ads on its smart speakers. “Customers may receive interest-based ads when they use ad-supported premium content — like music, radio or news streams,” said Raemhild, pointing out that this is the same experience if they engaged with that content on other channels. She went on to say that Amazon does not share voice recordings with developers. “Developers get the information necessary to fulfill your requests within their skills, such as answers when you play a trivia skill, or the name of the song you want to play,” she said. “We do not share our customers’ personal information to third-party skills without the customer’s consent.” Amazon allows Alexa users to opt out of ad targeting as well (see sidebar).

This isn’t news. Amazon is known to find new and creative ways to monetize data. And the fact that they admit to doing this and act like it’s no big deal illustrates that. The only way that this behaviour by Amazon will change is if consumers don’t buy Amazon smart speakers. Because all Amazon understands and cares about is money.

Charities & Aid Organizations In Ukraine Attacked With Malware: Amazon

Posted in Commentary with tags , on March 6, 2022 by itnerd

This morning I was directed to this post from Amazon who has been putting in a lot of effort and money to help the people of Ukraine. This part of the post caught my attention:

For several weeks, we have been partnering closely with Ukrainian IT organizations to fend off attacks and working with organizations in Ukraine, and around the world, to share real-time, relevant intelligence. As a result, our teams have seen new malware signatures and activity from a number of state actors we monitor. As this activity has ramped up, our teams and technologies detected the threats, learned the patterns, and placed remediation tools directly into the hands of customers. As always, our teams are constantly learning from the intelligence we collect to continue evolving protections for our infrastructure. We employ a ‘follow the sun’ model where our teams track new threat intelligence 24/7 and are able to quickly respond to issues. Our security teams are sharing this intelligence with governments and IT organizations that we partner closely with from Europe, North America, and around the world to equip critical infrastructure owners and operators with additional information to protect their facilities.

While we are seeing an increase in activity of malicious state actors, we are also seeing a higher operational tempo by other malicious actors. We have seen several situations where malware has been specifically targeted at charities, NGOs, and other aid organizations in order to spread confusion and cause disruption. In these particularly egregious cases, malware has been targeted at disrupting medical supplies, food, and clothing relief. We’ll continue to work hard to protect these customers and will continue to work closely with them as they carry out their much-needed work to help those impacted by this terrible conflict.

The fact that someone, presumably Russian and Belarusian threat actors are targeting charities, NGO’s and other aid organizations is completely reprehensible. I am glad that Amazon is stepping up to help defend these groups and I hope that other companies will do the same thing. I also hope that at some point in the future that the people behind these attacks are hunted down and brought to justice.

Amazon’s AWS Is Under Anti-Trust Scrutiny

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 26, 2021 by itnerd

Amazon appears to be coming under the microscope of the FTC this holiday season via anti-trust scrutiny of Amazon Web Services:

Lina Khan, the head of the agency and a vocal critic of the online retailer, is advancing a probe started several years ago by her predecessor. FTC investigators have contacted companies in the past few months to gather information about competition issues related to Amazon Web Services, said the people, who declined to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the outreach. At least one of the contacts was as recent as the past few weeks, said one of the people.

So, what could be the FTC be looking for. How about this for starters?:

One issue the FTC could look at is whether Amazon has an incentive to discriminate against software companies that sell their products to clients of AWS, while at the same time competing with Amazon. The fear is that Amazon could punish the companies that work with other cloud providers and favor those that it works with exclusively.

Well. At the moment, Amazon is co-operating with the FTC. But we’ll see if that continues if the pressure ratchets upwards. Which given the fact that Lina Khan is no fan of Amazon, I fully expect it to.

BREAKING: AWS Is Down…. Again

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 22, 2021 by itnerd

Bad news. The AWS Health Dashboard is showing that one of its Elastic Cloud Compute systems is down, specifically in Northern Virginia. The problems started at 4:35 am ET and is affecting the following sites among others:

  • Amazon
  • Hulu
  • Slack
  • Grindr
  • Epic Games Store
  • Samsung Smarthings
  • Rocket League

The cause was apparently a power outage. Amazon is bringing power back online and things should get back to normal soon. But this is the second major outage for AWS in a short amount of time. Thus Amazon will have some explaining to do.

Amazon Explains Why AWS Went Down On Tuesday

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 12, 2021 by itnerd

On Tuesday, AWS had a massive outage that took down a lot of the Internet in the process. Amazon has published a post-event summary that details why they went down. It’s a very detailed explanation that is very technical:

To explain this event, we need to share a little about the internals of the AWS network. While the majority of AWS services and all customer applications run within the main AWS network, AWS makes use of an internal network to host foundational services including monitoring, internal DNS, authorization services, and parts of the EC2 control plane. Because of the importance of these services in this internal network, we connect this network with multiple geographically isolated networking devices and scale the capacity of this network significantly to ensure high availability of this network connection. These networking devices provide additional routing and network address translation that allow AWS services to communicate between the internal network and the main AWS network. At 7:30 AM PST, an automated activity to scale capacity of one of the AWS services hosted in the main AWS network triggered an unexpected behavior from a large number of clients inside the internal network. This resulted in a large surge of connection activity that overwhelmed the networking devices between the internal network and the main AWS network, resulting in delays for communication between these networks. These delays increased latency and errors for services communicating between these networks, resulting in even more connection attempts and retries. This led to persistent congestion and performance issues on the devices connecting the two networks.

Hopefully Amazon addresses this so that this doesn’t happen again. Though I am not hopeful given that AWS doesn’t exactly have a good track record in terms of stability.

Amazon Launches Echo Buds In Canada

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 12, 2021 by itnerd

Amazon has launched the much-anticipated Echo Buds in Canada, featuring premium audio architecture for crisp, balanced sound, custom-designed Active Noise Cancellation technology, wireless charging capabilities, microphones for strong call quality, and hands-free access to Alexa. 

It’s never been easier for customers to bring Alexa with them throughout their day—whether at home, walking the neighbourhood, or commuting to work. All you have to do is ask Alexa to play music, call to check in on a loved one, try out a new recipe, and so much more. 

The all-new Echo Buds will be available in Black or Glacier White and customers can pre-order on amazon.ca – the price is $154.99.

Leaked Documents Show How Amazon’s Astro Robot Tracks Everything You Do 

Posted in Commentary with tags on September 29, 2021 by itnerd

Amazon released a new robot yesterday for your home yesterday. And to nobody’s surprise, it tracks literally everything you do, and it’s far from perfect:

Amazon’s new robot called Astro is designed to track the behavior of everyone in your home to help it perform its surveillance and helper duties, according to leaked internal development documents and video recordings of Astro software development meetings obtained by Motherboard. The system’s person recognition system is heavily flawed, according to two sources who worked on the project. The documents, which largely use Astro’s internal codename “Vesta” for the device, give extensive insight into the robot’s design, Amazon’s philosophy, how the device tracks customer behavior as well as flow charts of how it determines who a “stranger” is and whether it should take any sort of “investigation activity” against them. 

The meeting document spells out the process in a much blunter way than Amazon’s cutesy marketing suggests. “[Astro] slowly and intelligently patrols the home when unfamiliar person are around, moving from scan point to scan point (the best location and pose in any given space to look around) looking and listening for unusual activity,” one of the files reads. “Vesta moves to a predetermined scan point and pose to scan any given room, looking past and over obstacles in its way. Vesta completes one complete patrol when it completes scanning all the scan point on the floorplan.” […] 

Developers who worked on Astro say the versions of the robot they worked on did not work well. “Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity. The person detection is unreliable at best, making the in-home security proposition laughable,” a source who worked on the project said. “The device feels fragile for something with an absurd cost. The mast has broken on several devices, locking itself in the extended or retracted position, and there’s no way to ship it to Amazon when that happens.” “They’re also pushing it as an accessibility device but with the masts breaking and the possibility that at any given moment it’ll commit suicide on a flight of stairs, it’s, at best, absurdist nonsense and marketing and, at worst, potentially dangerous for anyone who’d actually rely on it for accessibility purposes,” the source said.

So we should really spend $1000 for this? I don’t think so. Amazon should really shelve this and go back to the drawing board. This robot is a #Fail.

Amazon Slapped With $887 Million Fine By European Privacy Watchdog

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 30, 2021 by itnerd

Amazon can likely afford this. Though they won’t be happy about cutting this cheque. Amazon has been issued with a fine of 746 million euros ($887 million) by a European privacy watchdog for breaching the bloc’s data protection laws:

The fine, disclosed by Amazon on Friday in a securities filing, was issued two weeks ago by Luxembourg’s privacy regulator. The Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection said Amazon’s processing of personal data did not comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. It has ordered Amazon to revise certain undisclosed business practices.

Amazon, which has its European headquarters in Luxembourg, denied that there had been any kind of breach that would violate the GDPR rules. “Maintaining the security of our customers’ information and their trust are top priorities,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC. “There has been no data breach, and no customer data has been exposed to any third party,” they added.

When I see any of these words:

  • maintaining
  • protecting
  • upholding

In a sentence with any of these words:

  • our customers’
  • clients’
  • users’

That includes any of these words:

  • trust
  • safety
  • information

Combined with any of these words:

  • is our top priority
  • duty
  • first thought

My first thought is they must have done something really bad. And the company knows it. Thus while nobody is saying what Amazon did to get slapped with this fine, you can bet that it wasn’t trivial.

Amazon Web Services Takes Out NSO Group Linked Accounts

Posted in Commentary with tags , on July 20, 2021 by itnerd

Hot on the heels of the report of the NSO Group selling spyware to nation states to allow those countries to go after a journalists and activists on a massive scale, the news is out via Motherboard that Amazon Web Services is cutting ties with the NSO Group by taking down any accounts associated with them:

The move comes as a group of media outlets and activist organizations published new research into NSO’s malware and phone numbers potentially selected for targeting by NSO’s government clients.

“When we learned of this activity, we acted quickly to shut down the relevant infrastructure and accounts,” an AWS spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.

Amazon and The Washington Post are owned by Jeff Bezos. And The Washington Post was part or the report of the spyware that the NSO Group was using. So I am sure that this is no coincidence. Also, while I am sure that this will hurt the NSO Group, I doubt this is fatal to them. But it will be interesting to see if this alters how NSO spyware is delivered to its targets.

Amazon Wants To Monitor You In Your Sleep… Ok… Sure… Right

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 12, 2021 by itnerd

Amazon is a pretty invasive company when it comes to monitoring your activities. And it looks like they’re going next level on that front. They have won U.S. permission to use radar to monitor consumers’ sleep habits:

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday granted Amazon.com Inc. approval to use a radar sensor to sense motion and “enable contactless sleep tracing functionalities.” Amazon on June 22 asked the FCC, which regulates airwave uses, for permission to market a device that uses radar. The technology captures movement in three dimensions, enabling a user to control its features through simple gestures and movements, the company said in a filing. The capability, according to Amazon, could help people with “with mobility, speech, or tactile impairments,” and it could monitor sleep with a high degree of precision.

Do I really want Amazon monitoring my sleep? Yes there is sleep monitoring from Apple for example. But I know that my sleep data from my Apple Watch stays with me. Where is the data that Amazon is gathering going? What is Amazon going to do with it? It’s likely too early to answer that question. But I think we should be asking that question now seeing as you are likely to be seeing products with this tech coming soon from Amazon. And by that point it may be too late to have that conversation.