As Amazon grows, so does its eye on consumers
SEATTLE - From what you buy online, to how you remember tasks, to when you monitor your doorstep, Amazon is seemingly everywhere.
And it appears the company doesn’t want to halt its reach anytime soon. In recent weeks, Amazon has said it will spend billions of dollars in two gigantic acquisitions that, if approved, will broaden its ever growing presence in the lives of consumers.
This time, the company is targeting two areas: health care, through its $3.9 billion buyout of the primary care company One Medical, and the "smart home," where it plans to expand its already mighty presence through a $1.7 billion merger with iRobot, the maker of the popular robotic Roomba vacuum.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company known for its vast collection of consumer information, both mergers have heightened enduring privacy concerns about how Amazon gathers data and what it does with it. The latest line of Roombas, for example, employ sensors that map and remember a home’s floor plan.
"It’s acquiring this vast set of data that Roomba collects about people’s homes," said Ron Knox, an Amazon critic who works for the anti-monopoly group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "Its obvious intent, through all the other products that it sells to consumers, is to be in your home. (And) along with the privacy issues come the antitrust issues, because it’s buying market share."
Amazon’s reach goes well beyond that. Some estimates show the retail giant controls roughly 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market, allowing it to gather granular data about the shopping preferences of millions of Americans and mor
e worldwide. Meanwhile, its Echo devices, which house the voice assistant Alexa, have dominated the U.S. smart speaker market, accounting for roughly 70% of sales, according to estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
Ring, which Amazon purchased in 2018 for $1 billion, monitors doorsteps and helps police track down crime — even when users might not be aware. And at select Amazon stores and Whole Foods, the company is testing a palm-scanning technology that allows customers to pay for items by storing biometric data in the cloud, sparking concerns about risks of a data breach, which Amazon has attempted to assuage.