The Amazon Assistant browser plugin tracks more than just prices when you’re online
In addition to tons of discounts on millions of goods, Amazon spent Prime Day tempting prospective shoppers to make a purchase by dangling a $10 discount off a $50 purchase — an easy amount to rack up during the major shopping days. All customers had to do was install the Amazon Assistant plugin to their web browser of choice. What those customers may not know is that in exchange for that $10, they handed Amazon the keys to all of their browsing activity for as long as Amazon Assistant is present and active in their browser.
The Amazon Assistant ostensibly is a price comparison tool. It lives in your browser and, whenever you go shopping on a site that isn't Amazon, it pulls up what you would pay for the product if you bought it from the giant online retailer. If Amazon can save you money while you're browsing, say, Walmart's website, the Amazon Assistant will let you know and provide you with a quick link to the product on its own site.
Of course, that isn't all that Amazon Assistant does. While it makes price comparisons easy as can be for you, it also sucks up data for Amazon. The browser plug-in requires access to your web activity, including links that you click on, page content that you view and results generated from your searches. Unless you stop to read the terms of service for the Amazon Assistant, you'll likely miss this information. According to Reuters, Amazon states that it uses that information for a variety of things, including improving its marketing and products and services — things that may have nothing to do with the actual Amazon Assistant itself.
The Amazon Assistant isn't Amazon's only way of gathering information from other sites, but it is one of the best tools in its arsenal. The company also uses tracking pixels — tiny, essentially unnoticeable images that are set up on web pages to track user activity and help tailor advertisements. But, according to Reuters, those only give Amazon access to visitor information on about 15 percent of the top 10,000 sites on the internet. Amazon Assistant can give it data basically everywhere you go online.
The Amazon Assistant isn't a new tool in the company's arsenal of data collection. It has already racked up more than seven million downloads from Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox users. A portion of those users likely came to the add-on last year during Prime Day, when the company offered a $5 discount for users who spent at least $25 if they simply installed the extension. This year, the discount doubled (as did the minimum purchase requirement).
The promotion is a no-brainer for Amazon, which can bank on the fact that once people install the browser plug-in, they are unlikely to get rid of it. Much like apps on your phone, most people completely forget about a browser extension after installing it and simply let it go about its business — in this case, collecting information on your browsing activity to help Amazon fine-tune its ability to sell you things.
If you decide to install the Amazon Assistant in order to snag some free cash from Amazon, make sure that you remove the extension if you don't plan on using it. Open the Add-Ons menu in Firefox or Extensions menu in Google Chrome, find the Amazon Assistant, and select to disable or remove it. While you're at it, clear out any other browser extensions you aren't using. They can often be security nightmares, either by collecting tons of your data like the Amazon Assistant does or by being neglected by developers and turning into a target for hackers to exploit.