Amazon Alexa now accepting 2020 candidate donations, but expert warns against using feature

Want to see your favorite 2020 candidate on the next debate stage? Now you have the option of donating to their campaign through e-commerce giant Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices — but experts caution your privacy could be at risk.

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Under a new feature called Alexa Political Contributions, starting on Thursday Amazon will let Americans donate to U.S. presidential campaigns using the phrases “Alexa, I want to make a political contribution,” or “Alexa, donate (x amount) to (y candidate).”

The minimum donation is $5, and users – over the age of 18 – are able to donate a total of $200 per campaign for an election cycle.

However, cybersecurity expert Morgan Wright – the chief security advisor for SentinelOne, told FOX Business Americans may want to steer clear of the new software.

“This is a treasure trove of data,” Wright said. “There are significant privacy concerns.”

Wright expressed apprehension over the use of any voice assistant – and has himself disabled all Alexa devices in his home.

Earlier this year, a report surfaced that Amazon workers listen to and transcribe recordings. In response, the company said it only annotates an “extremely small number of interactions” in order to improve customer experience.

Last year, Amazon’s Alexa Echo reportedly recorded and shared a private conversation.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a comment to FOX Business that the company has several methods in place to "ensure transactions are secure and any potentially fraudulent transactions are quickly and thoroughly investigated."

The company announced new privacy protections for its Alexa-enabled devices in May, following complaints that it was violating a children’s privacy act. The measures make it easier to delete recordings.

“Too many people will do it without realizing the implications that come with it,” Wright added. “Not just privacy, but security.”

Wright pointed to a scenario whereby a malicious actor compromises Amazon’s database, and is able to make multiple false donations. He also said it could enable actors from China or Russia to disguise the source of a donation after compromising somebody’s account.

Not to mention other consequences if third parties access the data.

Election integrity and consumer privacy is of particular concern in 2020, following an incident whereby millions of Facebook users’ personal information was accessed by a third-party during the 2016 cycle.

The move also comes at a time of mounting antitrust scrutiny of big tech on Capitol Hill. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will hold meetings with lawmakers this week to discuss the future of internet regulation.

Yet, the feature could put Amazon square in the center of the political space.

“This would be the beginning of Amazon being inserted into the middle of the political process,” Wright said, explaining they would own the experience between the donor and the party he or she donated to.

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The transaction will be processed via Amazon Pay, using the default payment method stored on a users’ Amazon account. An email receipt will be sent to the donor.

Only candidates that have set up preferences to accept Alexa donations will be allowed to receive them.