Amazon’s Alexa May Soon Throw Ads Into Its Responses

Even though that seems to be in violation of Amazon's policy.

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
May 12, 2017 at 1:33 PM ET

Amazon Echo will reportedly soon have yet another capability that users are going to hate: advertisements, ranging from six to 15 seconds, inserted into its responses.

An analytics firm called Voice Labs announced that it will be releasing “Sponsored Messages” on Friday, becoming “the first native solution to help Amazon Alexa developers monetize and continue to invest in the voice-first evolution.” For Alexa customers, that could mean, say, asking your virtual voice assistant for a cheeseburger recipe within one of its skills and getting one — along with a subtle, unsolicited mention of Wendy’s, one of the brands that will be participating in this campaign. In a blog post, Voice Labs said that its Sponsored Messages will be clearly marked as advertising, “thanking consumers for supporting Alexa developers and highlighting brand partners who are playing a role in supporting this budding ecosystem.”

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But there’s something more than a little bit suspicious about this ambitious and potentially hugely profitable plan.

The messages, Voice Labs claims, will be integrated through “Skills,” which are third-party apps that integrate Alexa’s capabilities. For instance, the app “Where’sMyPhone” can be used for its obvious purpose by users who have it downloaded when they say, “Alexa, open Where’sMyPhone.” As Ars Technica notes, this usage of Alexa appears to contradict Amazon’s developer agreement, which forbids “any advertising for third party products or services” for apps unrelated to music streaming, radio, or news briefs. However, Ars Technica states, many of the Skills apps are already in violation of this.

Still, Voice Labs CEO Adam Marchick insists that his company’s plans are perfectly in line with Amazon’s policies. When contacted by CNET, a representative from Amazon said, “We don’t have anything new to share today regarding [S]kills monetization.” In an e-mail to Vocativ, an Amazon representative confirmed that Amazon does not allow advertisements in skills in responses to questions.