On top of quietly recording every political argument in your home, Amazon’s Alexa will now let users put their money where their mouth is, and wirelessly donate to their favorite 2020 candidate.
Announced on Wednesday, the new feature activates when a user says, “Alexa, donate to [candidate name].” Candidates signed up to the program will be able to receive donations of up to $200, starting next month, according to Amazon’s blog.
Though Alexa users can already donate to charity through their monitoring device – sorry, “virtual assistant” – the new foray into campaign financing is slightly more controversial. Some Twitter commenters joked that the devices might strategically “mishear” requests to donate to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
Donor: Alexa, send $100 to Donald J Trump for President.
Alexa: Confirmed. Balance of checking account sent to Democrat National Committee.
— EJ Rosenberg (@EJRosenberg) September 18, 2019
Me: Alexa donate two hundred to Bernie
Alexa: Okay. Donating $50 to Biden, Warren, Mayor Pete, and Ms Healing Crystals
— JeffM8 (@portraitdesign8) September 18, 2019
Amazon to Enable U.S. Campaign Contributions Via Alexa
“Alexa, buy politician X”
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) September 18, 2019
Likewise, some users considered the feature an astroturfer’s dream come true. By purchasing and configuring hundreds of Alexa devices with their own unique accounts and payment details, politicians could ensure that massive donations get disguised as “grassroots” contributions, a badge of honor boasted about by Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Some also pointed out that as Alexa doesn’t distinguish between voices, a supporter of one candidate could make a sneaky donation at their friend’s house, at least until the unsuspecting friend sees the email receipt.
Oh, can’t wait for all the pay-to-play issues to come from this! “Someone was at my house and made my Alexa donate”.
— Harsh Khurana (@HarshKhuranaNY) September 18, 2019
For those who can’t decide who to stump for, Alexa will help them make up their minds. As well as taking donations, the devices will also dispense “relevant, accurate, and timely information about elections and candidates.”
Just how neutral the information Alexa will dispense remains to be seen. While Amazon stresses that “Alexa herself does not have opinions on politics or candidates,” and will pull its information from “nonpartisan organizations,” CEO Jeff Bezos likely does. Aside from his multiple feuds with President Trump, Bezos has been bashed by progressive candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for his company’s use of tax loopholes and for working conditions in Amazon’s distribution centers.
Trump, Sanders, and Warren have all proposed breaking up the Silicon Valley tech giants, including Amazon, with antitrust legislation.
However, Amazon insists Alexa will remain apolitical, and encourages users looking to learn more on any candidate to “just ask Alexa.”
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