Amazon is using your data to send you free samples

By Cale Guthrie Weissman

It’s a known and perhaps depressing fact that Amazon knows a lot about us. The company’s many tentacles have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. And the Jeff Bezos-founded company is only trying to become bigger. Digital advertising is one of the burgeoning businesses Amazon is pushing hard for. Already, it’s become a multibillion-dollar business, but it’s still nowhere near as powerful as Google and Facebook. Amazon, however, has an idea about how to convince more brands to use its ad offerings: free samples.

According to Axios, Amazon has been partnering with select brands and letting them send people free samples. Essentially, Amazon’s robust data on its users is figuring out who would be more likely to buy a certain product. If someone fits that mold, they may end up randomly receiving a package from Amazon showcasing the item. The program works like this, according to Axios: “Samples of new products are sent to customers selected using machine learning based on Amazon’s data about consumer habits.”

Amazon on its website describes samples as “like Amazon’s product recommendations, but real, so you can try, smell, feel, and taste the latest products.” While it’s fun to get a free sample from Costco, this certainly raises some privacy red flags. Though the packages come from Amazon, the program works by matching brands with unknowing users’ data. There is a way to opt out on the Amazon site from receiving samples; this latest report, however, notes that new users are automatically opted in.

I reached out to Amazon for comment about this sample program and will update if I hear back.

Though small, this is one way for Amazon to prove to advertisers it has an edge on Google and Facebook. And if any company has the capital to pilot a free sample program at scale, it’s Amazon. Still, the past year has proven that ad platforms running rampant can produce unfavorable outcomes. Free samples may be the lead up, but when the triopoly happens, what’s next?


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