Want to Donate to a Presidential Candidate? Just Ask Alexa

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(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. is offering presidential candidates a new way to receive money: via Alexa devices.

The online retailer says campaigns can sign up to receive donations in amounts starting at $5 whenever users of the home assistant say, “Alexa, I want to make a political contribution.” Amazon will process up to $200 per donor for each campaign, well below the $2,800 maximum donation individuals can make using other online services.

To ensure that Alexa understands donors’ commands, campaigns must provide three variations of the candidate’s name or its campaign committee name. The company says it will also support some variations, like a candidate’s title -- senator, president -- and last name.

One potential problem with the service is that political campaigns aren’t required to offer refunds to people who have contributed -- even by mistake. Alexa users who have erroneously received orders of merchandise and food can always return the merchandise, but if Alexa interprets a heated dinner-table debate about a presidential candidate as a request to send $200 to a campaign, the donor would have no recourse.

U.S. technology giants have a fraught relationship with the political process after foreign influence campaigns targeted users of Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., among other platforms, during the 2016 presidential election.

Amazon had previously programmed Alexa to answer questions on the 2018 midterm elections, relaying information on election results, candidates and polling places. It’s unclear whether people will feel comfortable using the new capabilities to have Alexa route money to candidates. Shopping has been a feature of Alexa since the software was first widely released in 2015, but relatively few people use voice software for commerce, surveys show, preferring to use a smartphone or laptop instead.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Amazon said it draws on hundreds of sources and collaborates with nonpartisan organizations for its election information. ”Alexa is an objective source for elections information,” the company said.

Joe Biden’s campaign declined to comment. Donald Trump’s campaign said it wasn’t clear whether it would participate.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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