Amazon owns a ton of products and services without "Amazon" or "an Amazon company" in the name.
These products and services are part of Amazon's network to - you guessed it - profit, one way or another.
These products and services are also massive data collection and mass surveillance tools. Do you use any of them?
Summing up Amazon's ecosystem is simple.
Amazon wants you to:
- Buy merchandise off its platform
- Use their (often paid) services
If you do both, then you're the perfect customer because you're allowing Amazon to maximize its data collection about you, your devices, and in some cases, even giving up data on your friends and family.
When you (1) buy/browse merchandise off Amazon's platform (through the website or app), Amazon can/will/try to collect:
- Your full name*
- Your IP address
- Your precise geo-location
- Your address*
- Payment information*
- Product/content search history on website and/or app
- Web history
- Cookies/persistent storage on your device (ex: are you logged into another web service or social media?)
- Purchase history (which can get aggregated with other buyers' purchase histories)
- Email address(es)*
- Timezone information
- How you interact with the website: clicks to, through, and from and scrolling and mouse over information
Items marked with * are sometimes understandable and/or reasonable; for example, if you want your bought merchandise to be shipped to your address then you need to provide an address
When you (2) use Amazon's services, such as Alexa or Ring, Amazon can/will/try to collect:
- Information on your network (Wi-Fi or cellular?)
- Information about other devices on your network
- Voice recordings (Alexa smart speaker)
- Device log files
- Wi-Fi credentials (when devices such as Ring are connected to your home network)
- Device metrics (device usage, app usage, connectivity data, errors)
- Content interaction information (ex: with Amazon Video, they can collect playback/streaming details such as duration, number of simultaneous streams, network details for streaming, and information on your Internet Service Provider)
- Phone number (doesn't have to provided by you; calling the customer service number is enough for them to capture it)
- Your detailed interaction with Amazon Services (ex: with Amazon cloud services, they can collect backup information and detailed data amount uploaded images/files)
- Information from subsidiaries (ex: data collected by you using Twitch can get used across all Amazon services)
- Information from third-parties; which comes from varying methods of tracking
Now, combine the lists of 1 and 2 and you get a really detailed picture about the data collected... about you. This data can be used to:
- Feed Amazon's DSSTNE algorithm... which is its
hyper personalized recommendation system
- Serve targeted ads
- Shared with third parties outside of Amazon's immediate ecosystem such as: advertisers, data brokers, publishers, social media networks (such as Facebook), search engines.
- Track/capture even more data about you, specifically outside the internet such as the case with Alexa and Ring.
Twitch, the live video streaming service that many gamers love, was once its own independent establishment until Amazon bought it in 2014.
Before Amazon bought twitch for a whopping $970 million, everyone thought that Google would acquire it first. After all, Google had already owned YouTube for over 7 years at the time. So, it can be argued that Amazon snatched up Twitch to put a wrench in Google's would-be plans.
However, it can also be argued that Amazon bought Twitch to profit off its independent success or make a debut in the gaming world.
It's not really a secret that Amazon started off as an online bookstore.
But did you know that Amazon also owns the audiobook platform, Audible?
Did you know Amazon acquired Audible way back in 2008?
Audible is the United States' largest audiobook producer and retailer. Through Audible, it is estimated that Amazon controls at least 41% of the total US audiobook market (as of 2018).
What's more is the anti-competitive strategies that Audible (read: Amazon) uses that it's now the dominant player in the audio book market. Interestingly, these "anti-competitive strategies," were denounced by Audible/Amazon when they commanded a smaller market share...
For example, the service still uses DRM (or Digital Rights Management) software to "protect publishers from piracy" despite DRM not being effective in preventing piracy and shown to be bad for business and consumer privacy alike.
The proof that DRM doesn't work has been there for years; so much so that in 2007, Apple's iTunes - which dominated the music market and used DRM software - saw decreasing revenue due to Amazon's launch of its own Mp3 streaming platform... which was DRM free.
Amazon even remixed the acronym to fit their marketing better: DRM became Don't Restrict Me, as opposed to Digital Rights Management. It worked, as many music companies came to realization that DRM did little to protect from piracy.
Yet, as Audible gobbles up more of the audio book market share, it doesn't show any signs of reducing use of DRM software now or in the near future. Some might say that this is hypocritical.
To some, Amazon's mid-2017 $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods didn't make a lot of sense.
Well, we can say that at first it didn't. A couple years later, it's much easier for us to see what vision Amazon saw when buying Whole Foods...
For starters, once Amazon bought the grocery-chain, it immediately acquired brick and mortar stores. On the surface these seems like a counterproductive move, given the rise and power of e-commerce.
However, some research shows that brick-and-mortar stores can reduce the costs of inventory storage and customer returns/exchanges. There's also further evidence that shows that brick-and-mortar stores can reduce a business' overall cost of marketing.
In short: The Whole Foods stores gave Amazon an immediate offline presence without having to spend money or time on building out stores or finding places to rent. Think of it like a 2-for-1.
With that immediate gain in offline and physical presence actually came a wealth of - you guessed - user/consumer data. It turns out Amazon was missing the physical, in store related data points when it came to shopping...
What times of day do certain people come into the store? What makes customers put products back on the shelves? How often do people make trips to the store - once a month, or once a week?
That means that Amazon can now combine this "offline data" with the vast amounts of information collected by its website and online Prime services.
Ultimately, this means that Amazon will be able to profile you and your shopping habits both offline and online with disturbing precision...
IMDb, or the Internet Move Database, is an old Amazon acquisition; Amazon purchased IMDb for about $55 million way back in 1998.
That's right. Chances are if you were born in the 90s, you might not be aware of the fact that yes, IMDb is a subsidiary of Amazon. Yes, it has been for well over 20 years.
Above all else, Amazon acquiring IMDb made it more than just an online bookstore; many consider this buyout the big start to Amazon's media conglomerate status.
For the most part, Ring has always had a pretty heavy connection to Amazon, prior to Amazon officially buying Ring in early 2018.
Before forking over a solid $1 billion dollars for the purchase, Amazon invested in Ring via the Alexa Fund, which exists for the sole purpose of funneling money to the development of Alexa-powered devices.
If you're not familiar with Ring; Ring creates smart home security devices. The most recognizable device it makes is probably the Ring video doorbell, which can automatically capture and upload video to the cloud.
Naturally, Amazon's official acquisition raised a lot of red flags within the privacy community. Of course, Amazon was ripping a ton of information from the security footage captured and uploaded by the smart doorbells.
Additionally, Amazon's Ring continues to stoke fears of a nationwide (USA) surveillance network; this is heightened due to its partnerships with many police departments across the US.
Even before Amazon bought it, the Ring doorbell/security camera had numerous security concerns. It has been shown to be
extremely vulnerable to malicious hacking/tampering
(Imagine that... Amazon, malicious attackers, and the government can theoretically watch you via Ring. Potentially simultaneously. How convenient.)
Currently, Amazon Ring faces numerous lawsuits in relation to these attacks.
ComiXology is the biggest web-comics store. It was bought by Amazon in Q2 of 2014.
This acquisition gave Amazon more leverage and increased dominance over web content. Let's not forget that Amazon also owns:
- Audible, which is the biggest audio book store.
- IMDB, which is a one-stop-shop powerhouse for movie-related content/information
- Kindle, which absolutely dominates the e-books space in the US and has a considerable amount of marketshare worldwide.
Amazon branded services that dominate the web
Amazon.com (the ecommerce platform)
Amazon's literally accounted for half the US ecommerce market share in 2020.
However, as of 2019, Amazon still comes in second place in terms of global sales volume/revenue. It is second only to Alibaba, a well known Chinese e-commerce retailer.
Regardless of US only or global market share, Amazon's ecommerce market size is continuously increasing.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
As of Q4 of 2020, Amazon owned 32% if the worldwide cloud market share. Its market share alone was more than the combined market share of Microsoft and Google.
AWS operates data centers across the globe; from the US and Canada to Sweden and South Korea.
Additionally, Amazon has insanely heavy hitting customers that use AWS. Most notably, Twitter, Netflix, Adobe, and Facebook (which is a "Big Tech Monopoly" all on its own) are some of the biggest users and top spenders on AWS.
Even other big companies outside of the traditional tech space utilize AWS. Some of these include Shell Oil, Kellogg's, and GE Oil & Gas. Fun fact: The US Government is among its customer base as well.
What's more is that allegedly, Apple - another member of Big Tech - also spends big cash on AWS services.
Considering the information presented above, it's important to realize the heavy implications it has for our online privacy.
As always, stay safe out there!