By Mitchell Clark
Amazon is offering some users a whole $2 a month for only one teeny, tiny thing in return: that they route their traffic through an Amazon server so the company can keep track of which Amazon ads they’ve seen. It’s apparently been doing this for months.
I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but you Should! Not! Do! That!
The offer is part of Amazon’s Shopper Panel app, an “invitation-only” program that gives you up to $10 a month in Amazon credit for uploading receipts for purchases you made at places other than Amazon and filling out surveys. I’ll say again: even if you were willing to basically give up your privacy, which you probably shouldn’t be, why would you do it for just a few dollars? If there’s anything more personal than your internet traffic, it’s a list of the things you’ve bought. Receipts can and have been used as evidence in court.
If you were to join the waitlist for the Shopper Panel program, get accepted, and then turn on Ad Verification, you’d then be asked to turn on an always-on VPN for your phone, according to an FAQ on Amazon’s site. The company says this isn’t actually installing a VPN on your device; instead, it’s making it so all your DNS traffic goes to an Amazon server, which lets the company know when you see “Amazon’s own advertising or ads from third-party businesses that advertise through Amazon Ads.”
In my opinion, that’s not much better than if it were running a VPN. Sure, all of your traffic won’t be going through Amazon, but in theory your phone is still asking Amazon for directions every time it tries to connect to a server. (That’s what DNS does.) Amazon says the app “will only use the app permissions to confirm the ads from Amazon that you see” and that it “does not receive or share any personal information with third-parties,” but you’ve really got to trust it on that.
And, again, the upside of this (provided that you’ve kept the “VPN” on for the vast majority of the month) is that at the end you get… $2.
Amazon is far from the first company to have a program like this. Facebook had one that gave users $20 gift cards each month to run a VPN on their phone, and in 2012 Google said it’d pay users $5 every three months for running a Chrome extension that tracked their usage. Another part of the program offered $20 a month if you used a special router that tracked your entire household’s internet usage.
The thing that stands out about all of these programs, Amazon’s included, is just how little money they pay the people who willingly submit to a big tech panopticon. If you’re the type of person who’s not bothered by a lack of privacy, you should at least demand more from some of the most valuable companies in the world.
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By Mitchell Clark