Amazon’s Alexa was a surprise hit, but what’s its next play?
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Voice-enabled smart speakers kind of came out of nowhere to become a huge deal in consumer electronics over just the last two years. Amazon launched the category with its Alexa devices, and the digital assistant is now showing up in cars, home entertainment systems, even a microwave. But as its popularity increases, so do questions about privacy, security and what might be coming in the future. Toni Reid, vice president of Alexa experience and Echo devices at Amazon, spoke to Molly Wood at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference last week in Laguna Niguel, California. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Toni Reid: So you can now have named timers, named alarms, you can have sleep timers. And so what we launched with just a few years ago was a basic experience, and we keep expanding to make each of the skills even more delightful for customers.
Molly Wood: And then as these devices have become more prevalent, there’s also been a lot of fear around them. There have been news stories about Alexa mysteriously starting to laugh or saying things out of nowhere or reading back inappropriate emails. How do you manage and think about those, especially privacy concerns for people?
Reid: Well, the first thing is that we take privacy and security very seriously. We have built in privacy from Day One into the Alexa voice service as well as our Echo devices. And so I think one of the more important parts about this is that customers understand how the technology works and that they have control and transparency over the use of their data.
Wood: How much control do I have as a consumer? Like, can I go in and delete everything I’ve ever said to Alexa?
Reid: Yes. You can delete your recordings one by one or you can delete them all. You have that control.
Wood: Like in the app?
Reid: In the app and on the website. So we have a privacy page where customers can go, and we actually continue to build enhancements to that page to make it even easier. You can actually now search your activity by date ranges if you want to say, “What did we say on Monday evening?” And so we are making it easy for our customers to access and control that data.
Wood: And then you previously worked in advertising at Amazon. Talk to us about how the Alexa platform and Amazon’s ad ambitions might meet in the future?
Reid: We have no plans for advertising. You know, our view has been that we build great experiences for customers. The rest will take care of itself. But also, customers will pay for services, and some of those services Amazon builds such as Amazon Music Unlimited, customers listen to audio books, we have Audible ebooks, etc. So for us the focus has been on building a great customer experience and offering the services that customers care about.
And now for some related links:
- The NAACP is calling for everyone to log out of Instagram and Facebook today. The organization essentially says the platform is bad for African Americans because of everything from misinformation to its ad system that lets people exclude African Americans from things like housing and job listings, as well as ongoing data and privacy issues. And yesterday a Senate Intelligence Committee report said Russian propaganda campaigns during the 2016 election specifically targeted black Americans on social media. The report also said Instagram was a way bigger deal for spreading misinformation than anybody knew and noted that, weirdly, nobody at Facebook had mentioned that very much at all. So much for Instagram being the lesser of two evils, I guess.
- Back to Amazon: The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story Sunday about how the company is trying to make it a little less easy for you to buy cheap basics and have them shipped overnight no matter how heavy or bulky they are, like sparkling water or cat litter. Internally, these products are branded CRAP for “can’t realize a profit.” But it also points to the fact that Amazon still makes most of its money by selling cloud services and advertising and not that much from us buying crap with free shipping.
Correction (Dec. 18, 2018): A previous version of this story misstated Toni Reid’s title. The text has been corrected.
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