Not content with playing music, checking on the weather and telling jokes, Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant now has a new trick up its sleeve: collecting money for political campaigns.
From next month, customers in the United States will be able to donate to 2020 presidential candidates with the power of their voice. The process is kicked off simply by saying “Alexa, I want to make a political contribution” or “Alexa, donate $X to [candidate name]”. The minimum acceptable amount is $5, with donations capped at $200, and the whole thing is processed via Amazon Pay, with an email receipt sent to the account holder afterwards.
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Amazon says that it “doesn’t require any technical experience” to set up, and that “all candidates are invited to make use of this technology,” although the actual explainer page waters this down to “only the principal campaign committees”.
It’s all part of a plan to make Alexa a 2020 election hub, with Amazon training the AI with a whole bunch of new questions including “who is running for president?”, “how is [candidate name] polling?”, “who endorses [candidate name]?”, “when is the Iowa caucus?”, “how does [candidate name] stand on education?” and “when is the next debate?”
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It’s a bold move for Amazon to get Alexa so involved in the divisive world of politics. You don’t have to look very far to find people on all sides of the political spectrum complaining that Facebook, Google, Twitter and the like are censoring their side’s views. Amazon does seem aware of the potential for controversy, adding a simple disclaimer in the blog post announcing the changes: “Alexa herself does not have opinions on politics or candidates.”
“We aim to provide the most relevant, accurate, and timely information about elections and candidates,” the post reads. “We federate across hundreds of information sources, and we collaborate with nonpartisan organisations to provide customers with information on polls, ballots, results and more.”
Is allowing for simple donations like this a good idea, or should Amazon stay away from politics? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews.