Amazon offers some users a whole $2 a month for just one tiny thing in return: for them to route their traffic through an Amazon server so that the company can track which Amazon ads they’ve seen. It has apparently been doing this for months.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you do! Not! To 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 credits for uploading receipts for purchases you made on places other than Amazon and for completing surveys. I say again, even if you were willing to give up your privacy, which you probably shouldn’t, why would you do it for just a few bucks? If there’s anything more personal than your internet traffic, it’s a list of things you’ve bought. Receipts can and have used as evidence in court.
If you got on the Shopper Panel program waiting list, were accepted, and then enabled Ad Verification, you would be prompted to enable an always-on VPN for your phone, according to a FAQ on Amazon’s site . The company says this doesn’t actually install a VPN on your device; instead, it directs all your DNS traffic to an Amazon server, which tells the company when you see “Amazon’s own ads or ads from third-party companies that advertise through Amazon ads.”
In my opinion, that’s not much better than if it were goods run a VPN. Of course, not all your traffic goes 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 Amazon ads you see” and that it “does not receive or share any personal information with third parties,” but you have to really trust it.
And again, the benefit of this (provided you’ve kept the “VPN” on for most of the month) is that you get $2 at the end.
Amazon is far from the first company to have a program like this. Facebook had one that gave users $20 gift cards every month to use a VPN on their phone, and in 2012 Google said it would pay users $5 every three months to run 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.
What is striking about all of these programs, including Amazon’s, is how little money they pay to the people who voluntarily submit to a great technical panopticon. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind a lack of privacy, you should at least demand more from some of the most valuable companies in the world.