Popup Skills Ads Coming To Echo Show Screens

When it comes to ads, there’s a fine line between useful suggestions and irritating nuisance. So far Amazon has avoided this by not having third party advertising on its Alexa platform. This is about to start changing.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon is to start allowing developers to place ads for their Alexa Skills (apps) on the Echo Show. The ads will appear as popups on the Show screens.

Arguably this could useful. Finding an particular Skill – even knowing that one exists – isn’t easy. And to be honest, most of the listed Skills are pretty useless. So helping users to find high quality Skills appropriate to them might be considered a benefit.

Unfortunately my cynical side doesn’t buy this. Assuming developers need to pay for these ads then the ads you see will, understandably, be for Skills that want to make money from you in one way or other. It’s a very small step from that to allowing more general commercial ads.

If they only appear on Show screens in idle mode they can easily be ignored. But what if they spread to Alexa’s spoken routines and non-screen devices like the Echo Dot? Amazon has given no indication of planning this, however it would be an obvious next step once the advertising dam has been breached. If it does happen then Alexa will mutate from a useful assistant to an annoying pest.

There’s an easy way for Amazon to get round this: give the user the option to opt out of ads. Will that happen? The history of internet advertising suggests it’s unlikely.