Tag Archives: Amazon

Data mining: What government spies and Amazon have in common

Is this hotel pager friendly?
Pagers: Not a bad idea, because probably not on the NSA’s to-track list. Or is it?

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has leaked document after document about how intelligence agencies like the NSA mine data. The agencies have even analyzed social media activity — without the consent of the social media companies or the users — to recognize patterns and predict behavior.

When I think about how much I share online, it makes me sweat. Luckily I’m not into the whole criminal thing, but the NSA could paint a pretty accurate picture of me just using my social media activity — not to mention the other data they could mine. In comparison with the characters government spies probably deal with, I’m pretty boring. However, it’s still creepy to think about how easy it would be for the government to not only learn every little detail about me but also predict my behavior based on patterns and my data.

But data mining isn’t only for government spies. As Mashable explains, it’s how many successful internet companies make their money.

You know how Amazon reads your mind and knows exactly what else you want to buy because of what’s in your cart or your history? That’s a type of data mining called association learning. Other customers who bought your thing also bought this other thing, so they recommend it to you and get even more money in their pockets. It may seem a little creepy, but in their privacy policy, Amazon actually tells you exactly what they collect and how they use it.

This  data mining somehow bothers me less. Amazon doesn’t care who I am; they just want to sell me more. And as long as their data mining means a pleasant shopping experience for me and no random charges on my credit card, I think I’m OK with that. It also helps that they attempt to be transparent with their data mining practices as described in the privacy policy.

But the NSA’s reputation is for anything but being transparent, and they have broken their privacy rules so many times at this point that it’s difficult for anyone to trust them. Sure, I’m boring — but how do I really know what they’re doing with my information if they don’t tell me and I can’t trust them?


Fun with apps: How Amazon is even more awesome than I realized

I’m a frequent Amazon shopper, but for some reason, I had never downloaded the Amazon app. I have bought items on Amazon using my phone, but I guess I accessed Amazon.com through Safari instead of using the app. I downloaded and explored the app today, and it has earned a permanent spot on my phone.

When the app opens, “Search” and “Shop by Department” options are at the top, followed by a few select products (which were different each time I opened the app as a guest), and sign-in and more navigational tools at the bottom. When I sign in with my Amazon account, those promoted products change to products recommended for me based on my account’s history.

amazon homepage
Obviously, I buy tech stuff on Amazon. The baby food house ad freaks me out a little.

Other than swiping left through the “Wireless Accessories,” this is all you can see on the home screen of the Amazon app. I love the simplicity of it compared to the home page of Amazon.com. Amazon has so much to offer that they could have gone overboard listing products on the first screen in the app, but instead they kept it minimal and emphasized the search features.

And the app has some really cool search features. If you’re browsing, shopping by department is probably easiest. When you’re looking for something specific, there’s the search button at the top and the bottom, just in case you missed one or the other. But here’s where it gets cool: When you tap the search button, in addition to typing in your query, you also get the option to “Scan it” or “Flow.”

amazon search


You can probably imagine what “Scan It” does — and it does it very well. I tested it by scanning several items in my pantry, and the app correctly recognized the bar code so quickly, I couldn’t even take a screen shot of the barcode scanner.

Flow, I wasn’t familiar with. When I clicked Flow, it suggested that I focus my camera on a book, DVD or game, so I pulled this book off my bookshelf.

amazon flow
See those bluish dots? Those were moving around on the screen and fixated on the text — I guess so it could “read” the title — before the book result showed up at the bottom. WHAT IS THIS SPACE AGE WE LIVE IN.

I’m not sure how useful this would be within my own home. If I’m “flowing” books, movies or games in my house, that probably  means I already own them. But this is like the Shazaam for shopping out in the world. It allows you to quickly look up products on Amazon to compare prices. I can see the same use for the barcode scanner, in addition to just reordering items you’ve run out of.

Obviously, “Cart” and “Wish List” are useful items, but I won’t go into those since they’re self-explanatory. But I have to share the empty cart message:

Those Amazoners are so clever.
Those Amazoners are so clever.

And here’s what the “More” menu holds:

amazon more menu

Of course I had to check out the deals, and it being Amazon, there are lots of them. At first I didn’t think they were very well organized, but then I noticed an option to “Refine” the deals by category, which makes it much easier to see if there’s a deal on something I’m interested in.

Amazon is somewhat famous for its reviews, and I often look at Amazon’s reviews for a product even when I’m not buying it from Amazon. So what Amazon app would be complete without reviews on each product page? I hope you’ve heard of the reviews for Haribo Sugar-Free Gummy Bears


Last gushing point: I love the “One-Click” buying option. I realize this is also available on desktop, but I appreciate it even more on my phone. Once I’m signed in and have verified all the things I have to verify, being able to buy something without typing things as important as shipping addresses and credit card numbers using my phone’s keyboard is awesome.

Thanks, Amazon! Loving the app. Now get those drones running.