There are currently 150 million paid Amazon Prime subscribers, a 50% increase from April 2018. As Amazon continues to grow in popularity, more people are starting to ask the question, “does Amazon sell your personal information?” The short answer is: no, it doesn’t. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
While Amazon doesn’t routinely sell customers’ personal data, it does share it with third parties. Moreover, there have been at least two cases where Amazon employees handed over user data to unauthorized parties in exchange for cash.
This is worrying, not least because Amazon knows an awful lot about you. Keep on reading to find out how the multi-billion dollar conglomerate collects information about its customers and what you can do to keep your data safe.
How Does Amazon Collect Information?
Amazon employs a variety of different methods to collect user data. The company gathers customer information as they navigate the site, use Amazon services (like Prime Video) and Amazon devices (such as Kindle), browse other Amazon owned sites (including Goodreads, WholeFoods, and Zappos), and interact with Alexa.
One of the main ways Amazon collects information about its customers is via their site. Every time you browse Amazon, the company records things like:
- Your IP address
- Your timezone
- Your search queries
- Which items you click on
- The amount of time you spend on each page.
Amazon also keeps tabs on your order history and your wishlist and monitors your reviews and ratings. Any details you fill out in your profile, like your shipping address, are likewise stored by Amazon. If you participate in Amazon contests and surveys, your responses are kept, as well.
Moreover, if you subscribe to Prime Video or Prime Music or use Twitch, Amazon can track your viewing habits (i.e., what kind of TV shows/movies/music/games you search for).
Amazon also gathers your data whenever you use one of its devices. For example, if you use a Kindle e-Reader, it’s not just the titles of books you’ve browsed or read that are being collected. In an article for the British daily newspaper The Guardian, the technology reporter Kari Paul wrote that she was shocked to discover that Amazon knew not only the amount of time she spent reading each book but also which parts she liked the most.
If you use sites like IMDb (a film and TV database) and Goodreads (a social networking site for bookworms), you’re giving Amazon even more data. And if you shop at WholeFoods, Amazon has access to your grocery list, too. Marketwatch, a site that provides financial and business news, has a handy graphic detailing all of the companies that Amazon currently owns. If you use or shop with any of them, you might be inadvertently sharing more information with Amazon than you think.
Amazon’s Alexa is also amassing information about you based on what you tell it to do. Although Alexa is only supposed to record and store audio after hearing her wake word, users’ personal conversations might still not be as private as they think. In 2018, Alexa recorded a private conversation between husband and wife and then sent it to an acquaintance on their contact list.
In 2019, Amazon also made headlines after it came to light that thousands of its employees listen to and transcribe Alexa recordings to help improve the voice assistant’s processing power. Amazon employees are supposed to transcribe the audio even when users are obviously oblivious that they’ve “woken” Alexa up. According to Bloomberg, a global provider of financial news, each Amazon employee transcribes about 100 recordings a day from accidental Alexa activations.
Does Amazon Sell My Personal Information?
According to Amazon’s Privacy Notice, the company is “not in the business of selling [our] customers’ personal information to others.” Instead, Amazon uses the data it collects to better understand who you are and then offer you products you might like.
However, Amazon can, and does, share some of your data with any third parties involved in your transactions. This includes businesses with which Amazon offers either joint or co-branded offerings, like “Starbucks, OfficeMax, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, J&R Electronics, Eddie Bauer and Northern Tool + Equipment.”
Amazon can also share your data with third-party service providers, like delivery services and marketing agencies.
If Amazon were to buy or sell a business or a service, your data would be considered a “transferred business asset.” However, the data would be subject to any claims made in a pre-existing Privacy Notice.
Lastly, Amazon might choose to release sensitive customer information to comply with the law, enforce its own agreements (like Conditions of Use), or protect the rights of the company and its users. For example, Amazon could swap customer information with other businesses and organizations to prevent fraud and manage credit risk.
Does Amazon Share Your Email Address?
As mentioned above, Amazon might share your personal information (which might or might not include your email address) with third parties under certain circumstances. This is perfectly legal under Amazon’s Privacy Notice.
What isn’t legal is Amazon employees selling customer data to sellers. Earlier this year, Amazon fired at least one worker after they shared customer data, including email addresses, with a third party.
This isn’t the first time Amazon employees accessed customer data improperly. In 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that some Amazon employees leaked reviewers’ email addresses to independent merchants for bribes. That same year, Amazon exposed customer names and email addresses as a result of a “technical error.” The company refused to give any information about the nature of the incident, including whom the information was exposed to.
One thing is clear: If you’re worried about your email address being disclosed to strangers, your best bet is to use a junk or masked email address. With a masked email address, you never have to reveal your real email address, but you don’t risk missing important emails, either.
However, if your email address and other personally identifiable information are already out there, you’ll want to opt-out of every major data broker site. By scraping public records, data brokers create detailed consumer profiles which they then sell to anyone willing to pay for them, including companies, identity thieves, and cybercriminals.
Can Anyone See What I Buy On Amazon?
No one but the Amazon account holder can see what they buy on Amazon. That being said, when you register for an Amazon account, you automatically (and perhaps unknowingly) create a public Amazon profile that can reveal your past purchases.
This public profile shows your biographical information, profile picture (if you’ve uploaded one), product reviews, Wish Lists, whether you’ve given hearts or votes to someone or something, and other community activity.
So, even though your Amazon profile doesn’t contain your browsing or shopping history, it’s nonetheless very informative. If you’re in the habit of leaving a review for every single product you buy, anyone can see everything you’ve ever bought on Amazon (with the exception of “sensitive products”).
Can I Request My Data from Amazon?
Yes! To see everything that Amazon knows about you, log into your Amazon account and then go to “Request My Data.” From there, you can ask to see things like your search history, order history, payment options, and more.
Amazon should send you a full report within a month. However, if the request is more complex or if Amazon is dealing with a large volume of requests, it could take longer.
Nevertheless, you can access quite a lot of your data immediately via your Amazon account. For example, you can see your order history, which includes everything you’ve ever bought on Amazon, by going to “Order History Reports.” The business news site CNBC has a guide on how you can find most of the data Amazon has on you without having to wait 30 days.
Protect Your Private Information Online
Although Amazon doesn’t sell your private information, it makes no secret of the fact that it does share at least some of your data with third parties. As recent and past incidents show, the data held by the company is not safe from its own rogue employees, either.
One thing you can do to safeguard your sensitive information is update your default Amazon settings. If you’re worried that some of your private data might have already been leaked, check major data broker sites to see if they have a profile on you. These sites collect all sorts of information about you, including your email address, phone number, marital status, and more. Getting off these sites is a time-consuming process that can involve filling out lengthy online forms, making phone calls, and even mailing physical letters. If you don’t know where to start, we have a step-by-step guide on how to opt-out of the top broker sites.
Short on time? We can help. DeleteMe is a subscription-based service that removes you from the most popular data brokers and people search sites out there. Since data brokers are known to relist your profile almost immediately after you ask them to remove it, you’ll be glad to know that our privacy experts re-check these sites every few months to ensure that your name hasn’t reappeared.