Data Privacy Day 2021

Amazon Severely Misclassifies Digital Privacy News Writer in CCPA Data

By Fiona Tang

In October, I filed a California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) request — seeking my data from

Six days after my Oct. 11 query, the tech giant emailed me, “Your personal data is ready to download.”

Amazon’s data revealed that I had been categorized as a female, 45 to 55 years old — who was married, worked in sales-service and had children aged 7 to 9.

My annual income, according to Amazon’s data, was $100,000 to $150,000 (if only I earned that much money).

But in reality, I am a 29-year-old woman, working in civic technology — single and without children. The only attribute that Amazon had accurately predicted was my gender.

“I would not be surprised if Amazon markets the same products differently to different groups of people,” privacy expert Robert Siciliano told Digital Privacy News. “It’s just packaged differently to appeal to their individual wants and needs.”

He explained that Amazon’s inaccurate profiling could indicate that I am doing a decent job of protecting my identity as a privacy-oriented consumer.

Siciliano noted, however, that the results could mean that my purchasing behavior was similar to that of a consumer who fits the demographic profile that Amazon had constructed of me.

Amazon did not return requests for comment from Digital Privacy News.

New Questions

As someone who actively works to protect my digital privacy, my usual concern is that a company will accurately predict my behavior and manipulate my purchasing decisions to the detriment of my autonomy and identity.

“I would not be surprised if Amazon markets the same products differently to different groups of people.”

Robert Siciliano, privacy expert.

In this instance, though, I was suddenly flooded with new questions.

Is it worse to be misclassified? How did I get grouped into these “advertising audiences”? What if I am being served ads, based on the higher salary that Amazon thinks I earn, for products that functionally are the same but have higher price points?

CCPA, which took effect last July, requires companies doing business in California and deriving 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information to disclose data within 45 days of receiving a request from a consumer.

Searches Tallied

Amazon’s data also contained every item search I made on the site between April 2019 and May 2020, totaling 573 searches.

The information includes the timestamp of each search, the exact keywords used to search for a product, the IP address of the device I was on, the session ID, the query ID, whether I went directly to the Amazon landing page or navigated from an external source, the number of “shipping refinements” — and the number of items that I clicked, added to my cart and ordered. 

The Seattle-based company also disclosed lists of six “advertisers whose ads you clicked” and 93 “advertisers who brought audiences in which you are included.”

Filing Requests

To file your own CCPA request to Amazon, click here and then click on “Request My Data.”

You will be asked to log in, and you will be directed to a “Request My Data” page.

From there, select “Request All Your Data” from the dropdown menu and click “Submit Request.”

Click the “Confirm Data Request” button in the confirmation email.

I knew the names of some of these advertisers — “AT&T Corp.” and “General Mills” — but the majority of those I had no connection to nor knowledge of.

They included “Bank of Montreal,” “Cove Smart” (home-security system), “Creative Recreation” (shoe brand), “GlaxoSmith Kline” (global pharmaceutical maker) and “XSellCo. Software Ltd.” (software for sellers).

Targeting Buyers

Advertisers use Amazon’s trove of customer data to identify people most likely to buy their products.

Even “non-endemic” advertisers selling products not sold on Amazon, like cable or internet services, use data collected by Amazon to target ads toward possible buyers.

Tech companies develop a detailed profile of you so that other companies can sell to you, Siciliano said.

“Digital advertising and marketing can feel like a situation where you feel you have to bathe in hand sanitizer,” he told Digital Privacy News. “The level of invasiveness and the amount of data that companies are gathering and sharing is appalling.”

Fiona Tang is a California writer.