Amazon Alexa Is Getting Its Savviest Skill Yet: Making Donations to Presidential Campaigns

September 18, 2019, 10:29 PM UTC

Amazon Alexa can already perform tens of thousands of tasks—from telling jokes and playing songs to restocking your dwindling toilet paper supply. On Wednesday, the e-commerce giant announced its voice assistant will soon have a new, fitting skill for these politically-charged times: Alexa can help users donate to their U.S. presidential candidate of choice.

The new feature, Alexa Political Contributions, will enable Amazon Echo (and other Alexa-compatible devices) owners to contribute to any 2020 U.S. presidential candidate, simply by simply, “Alexa, donate to [candidate’s name].” The payments are made through Amazon Pay, which uses the account information tied to users’ Amazon accounts, and the maximum amount that can be contributed to an individual candidate is $200. (Translation: Billionaires are better off writing checks or buying plates at fundraising dinners.)

This is not the first time Amazon’s voice assistant software has waded into political waters. Alexa can already tell users how a certain candidate is currently polling, who endorses that politician candidate, and can even share candidates’ stances on the issues like education, healthcare, and immigration. The Alexa-powered fundraising effort also comes almost exactly two years after Joe Biden launched a daily news podcast for Amazon Echo and Google home.

For Amazon, the launch of Alexa Political Contributions is yet another way the company is trying to make its voice assistant more useful. Since the Amazon Echo was first launched in 2014, more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices have been sold, a number that includes products ranging from the practical (thermostats and light switches) to the bizarre (toilets, lawn mowers, and even talking fish).

But the more commonplace Alexa-enabled devices have become, the less engaged users have become with its smarts. According to a survey published by Adobe Analytics in Sept. 2018, the majority of Alexa users typically use the voice assistant for to access the system’s basics, like listening to music, getting the weather forecast, and asking random questions.

Since then, Amazon has worked aggressively to increase Alexa’s capabilities, increasing its 50,000 skills, as of in Sept. 2018, to 90,000, as of June 2019.

It’s not clear how many Alexa users will ultimately ask their voice assistant to donate to their favorite U.S. presidential candidate, but Amazon is determined to have Alexa play a role—no matter how minor, it may be—in the 2020 election. In Amazon’s announcement on Wednesday, the company promised it would continue to add more features over the next 12 months to give Alexa users “easy access to election information.” Washington, are you listening?

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