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Amazon is keeping an eye on consumers as it expands

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News Tech: Amazon appears to be present in everything, from what you buy online to how you remember duties to when you check your doorway.

This time, the business is focusing on two industries: health care, where it will spend $3.9 billion to acquire primary care provider One Medical, and the “smart home,” where it will merge with iRobot, the company behind the well-known robotic Roomba cleaner, to increase its already sizable position.

And it seems the business has no plans to curtail its reach anytime soon. Amazon has just stated that it plans to invest billions of dollars in two enormous purchases that, if authorised, will increase its already significant involvement in consumers’ lives.

Both deals have heightened long-standing privacy worries about how Amazon collects data and what it does with it, which is maybe not surprising for a firm known for its extensive collecting of consumer information. For instance, the most recent Roombas include sensors that will recall the layout of a house.

“We treat your palm signature just like other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using best-in-class technical and physical security controls,” the company said on a website that provides information about the technology.

Even customers who consciously steer clear of Amazon are likely to have little influence over how their employers run their corporate computer networks, which Amazon and Google have long controlled through their cloud computing service AWS. “It’s hard to think of another organization that has as many touch points as Amazon does to an individual,” said Ian Greenblatt, who heads up tech research at the consumer research and data analytics firm J.D. Power. “It’s almost overwhelming, and it’s hard to put a finger on it.”

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And like any business, Amazon wants to expand. The company has recently joined with the building firm Lennar to create tech-powered homes and purchased the Wi-Fi startup Eero. It would add another component to the ideal smart home with iRobot, as well as, of course, more data. Customers have the option of not having the layout of their homes stored by iRobot devices, according to the vacuum manufacturer. Data privacy experts are concerned that the deal will provide Amazon another opportunity to gather data that it may use to target customers with advertisements or incorporate into its other products.

A spokesman for Amazon, Lisa Levandowski, refuted the claim in a statement. “We do not use home maps for targeted advertising and have no plans to do so,” Levandowski said.

Umar Iqbal, a postdoc at the University of Washington who led the research, said he and his colleagues found Echo devices running third-party Skills, which are like apps for Alexa, that communicate with advertisers. Levandowski said consumers can opt out of receiving “interest-based” ads by adjusting their preferences on Amazon’s advertising preferences page. She also said Amazon doesn’t share Alexa requests with advertising networks.

Whether that will relieve concerns is another matter, especially in light of research about Amazon’s other devices. Earlier this year, a group of university researchers released a report that found voice data from Amazon’s Echo devices are used to target ads to consumers – something the company had denied in the past. “We do not use home maps for targeted advertising and have no plans to do so,” Levandowski said.

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