The deal is for new installations of the Amazon Assistant, a comparison-shopping tool that customers can add to their web browsers. It fetches Amazon’s price for products that users see on Walmart.com, Target.com and elsewhere.
In order to work, the assistant needs access to users’ web activity, including the links and some page content they view. The catch, as Amazon explains in the fine print, is the company can use this data to improve its general marketing, products and services, unrelated to the shopping assistant.
The terms underscore the power consumers routinely give to Amazon and other big technology companies when using their free services. In this case, Amazon gains potential insight into how it should tailor marketing and how it could stamp out the retail competition.
“This data is often used for training machine learning models to do better ad targeting,” said Bennett Cyphers, a technologist at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But in the U.S., there aren’t really restrictions on what you can do with this kind of data.”
Amazon already has more than 7 million customers using its assistant via Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, according to data published by those web browsers. Other companies offer similar shopping tools.
While another technology known as tracking pixels shows Amazon information from visitors to roughly 15 percent of the top 10,000 websites, the assistant lets Amazon follow a smaller set of users from page to page, Cyphers said.