Which Major AI Companies Care Most About Your Privacy: Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook?

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Exploring Privacy In The Age Of AI: Data Collection and Use

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Many companies are working hard to improve their artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. AI could impact everything from medicine to silly Instagram overlays and everything in between. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are all toiling to gain an edge in the AI field by leveraging their massive treasure troves of data, but what are their existing privacy policies and user data security track records? Which of these companies cares the most about protecting your privacy? Should you even trust Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google with your data?

We examined the kind of data that is collected by the above companies and how it is shared, their virtual assistants, and privacy controls. We also reviewed the companies’ recent behavior to determine whether or not they truly adhere to their own privacy policies. The information we provide in this article was collected from the companies’ policies, which can easily be found online. Any additional articles that are linked are from our news archive.

Collection Of Your Data And Its Use

All four companies generally collect “personal” and “non-personal” information through their sites and services. Personal information is any kind of data that could be used to identify or contact an individual. This information includes your name, email address, phone number, billing address, and birthday. Personal information is typically collected when you are signed into your account and use their services, or purchase items through one of their sites. Services can include anything from communicating with friends through Facebook Messenger, downloading a song on iTunes, purchasing an item through Amazon, or using Google Maps.

Non-personal information is data that might not necessarily identify an individual user. All four companies are a little bit more vague about the term’s definition, but it can include information like occupation, area code, search queries, and sites that you visit. These companies frequently use cookies to determine which parts of a website users have visited and the effectiveness of advertisements and formatting. This kind of information is sometimes then aggregated with non-identifying information and shared with third-parties. Cookies can be disabled, but it may be more difficult to hide information like your area code if you have purchased items through a website.
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All four companies will offer advertisements based off your activities and purchases. Each company will attempt to “personalize” the ads so that you will be more likely to purchase an item. Some of the ads will be specifically tailored based off of your history, while other ads will be based on other information like your age, geographic location, and interests. Each company sells advertising space to other companies and will show you ads based off demographics.

Apple and Google tend to collect and share information in a similar manner. They may share information with certain partners to improve certain services and may receive information in turn. For example, both Google and Apple run their own app stores and other web services. They may receive information from app developers about the functions of the apps or advertisements. Google and Apple also collect information from their web browsers.

Facebook and Amazon’s data collection policies are a little more concerning. Amazon’s privacy policy states that, “some third-parties may provide us information about you (such as the sites where you have been shown ads or demographic information) from offline and online sources that we may use to provide you more relevant and useful advertising.” This policy implies that Amazon receives information only about existing Amazon users, but the wording is unclear.

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According to Facebook’s Data Policy Page, “...partners provide information about your activities off Facebook-- including information about your device, websites you visit, purchases you make, the ads you see, and how you use their services-- whether or not you have a Facebook account or are logged into Facebook.” This means that Facebook may have knowledge about your web activity and purchases even if you have never created a Facebook account before.

Although these policies are troubling, they are unsurprising. Both Google and Apple are able to collect information whenever someone uses their web browsers and other services.

Regardless of which company you choose to use, your personal and non-personal information will be gathered and shared. We will now examine how these privacy policies apply to virtual assistants, smart speakers and displays, and applications of artificial intelligence (AI).

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