“Beginning tomorrow 2020 U.S. Presidential Candidates can sign up to receive campaign contributions via Alexa. All candidates are invited to make use of this technology—on-boarding is simple and doesn’t require any technical experience. Starting next month, customers will be able to simply say, ‘Alexa, donate to [candidate name]’ to contribute up to $200 to any participating candidate’s campaign fundraising efforts. Alexa Political Contributions is powered by Amazon Pay, which uses the payment information associated with your Amazon account to complete the donation request.
Amazon suggests the process of signing up is simple and requires no technical expertise so should be easy for campaigns to sign up. Beyond registering for a Merchant account, campaigns are asked to submit “three preferred variations of the candidate’s name or campaign committee—with phonetic spelling for common pronunciations.” This information will be used to train Alexa to recognize how the
Contributions Made Using Amazon Pay
The campaign contributions will be made through Amazon Pay, so users also need to register for the service in order to participate. It also means a transaction fee of 2.9% plus a $0.30 authorization fee will be collected by Amazon. This is not Alexa’s first foray into facilitating donations to non-profit organizations. In April 2018, Amazon began receiving donations to 48 charities using the combination of Alexa and Amazon Pay. That program has expanded to include 307 charities since that time. Alexa Political Contributions appears to be a similar program structure applied to campaigns.
Customer Information Will Be Shared with Campaigns
A clear difference from the charitable donation program is the information required to be provided to campaign organizations about donors. FEC guidelines state that campaigns for federal office are required to report donor information for donations over $200 that includes:
- Name of the source of receipt
- Mailing address
- Employer (if from an individual)
- Occupation (if from an individual)
- Election to which a contribution or loan was designated (indicated by checking “primary,” “general,” or “other” in the election designation box)
- Date of receipt
- Amount of receipt
Alexa’s limit of $200 for contributions would seem to eliminate the need for this information to be shared. However, campaigns are required to report this information for individual contributions in excess of $200 as well as “aggregates over $200 when added to other contributions received from the same source during the election cycle.” In order for campaigns to match small-dollar donations from Alexa with previous donors to determine if they have surpassed the $200 threshold, they will need to be given the required donor information. That means these donations will not be anonymous.
An Amazon spokesperson told Voicebot in an email that, “Prior to the first time a customer initiates a contribution to a political campaign, Alexa informs the customer about this and asks if the customer would like to continue with their donation. If the customer does not explicitly say ‘yes’ then no information is shared with the campaign.” That also means no donation is shared. The information must be sent to the campaign along with any donation.
Another requirement of all political contributions for federal office is that they can only be made by U.S. citizens. Citizenship status is not information that Amazon normally records. However, the Amazon spokesperson indicated that “Alexa will ask the customer to confirm [citizenship status] verbally and will send information to the Alexa app,” when they request to make a political donation. Ultimately, the donors and campaigns are liable for violations of election laws and Amazon appears to be interested in making sure consumers are informed of this requirement and collecting the data on behalf of campaigns.
Alexa to Provide “Objective” Election News
Amazon also indicated that it has expanded Alexa’s knowledge base to offer more in-depth and timely information related elections. The announcement summarizes the company’s intent by saying, “We aim to provide the most relevant, accurate, and timely information about elections and candidates. We federate across hundreds of information sources, and we collaborate with nonpartisan organizations to provide customers with information on polls, ballots, results and more. Alexa herself does not have opinions on politics or candidates.”
Despite this disclaimer about “objectivity” and determination to use “nonpartisan organizations” and “not have opinions on politics,” there is little doubt that any source Alexa cites about presidential politics will be viewed as partisan by someone. So, this may be a great way to share information and engage citizens around the political process. Or, it may turn out to be a pretext for partisan political operatives to attack Alexa as a campaign tactic.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 6:27 pm EDT to reflect additional information provided by Amazon.