Alexa recorded kids’ voices – and Amazon ignored requests to delete them, feds say

  • Gadgets
  • Friday, 02 Jun 2023

Amazon Echo and Echo Plus devices, behind, sit near illuminated Echo Button devices during an event by the company in Seattle, Sept. 27, 2017. In a vote Wednesday, May 31, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission is ordering Amazon to pay more than $30 million in fines over privacy violations involving its voice assistant Alexa and its doorbell camera Ring. —AP

Amazon ignored parents’ requests to delete their kids’ voice recordings from the Alexa voice assistant, federal officials say.

Now, the company has agreed to pay to settle a lawsuit.

A complaint brought by the US Justice Department accuses the tech giant of violating a children’s online privacy rule by keeping the recordings, even after parents asked Amazon to scrub them from the platform, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Further, officials said Amazon stored kids’ sensitive data, including geolocation information, months to years after they stopped using the personal assistant.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and sacrificed privacy for profits,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a May 31 news release.

A proposal would require the company to pay US$25mil and delete kids’ data. The order is awaiting federal approval.

In a statement, Amazon said it disagreed “with the FTC’s claims” but would take necessary steps to protect user data.

“As part of the settlement, we agreed to make a small modification to our already strong practices, and will remove child profiles that have been inactive for more than 18 months unless a parent or guardian chooses to keep them,” an Amazon spokesperson told McClatchy News in a statement.

Amazon kept voice data ‘indefinitely’

Alexa is often accessed through an Amazon speaker device, such as the Echo Dot Kids, and allows users to play games or music – just by using their voice.

In the complaint, prosecutors estimate more than 800,000 children under 13 have an Alexa profile that’s linked to a parent’s profile. By default, the platform is set to save voice data “indefinitely” – unless the user explicitly asks that it be removed.

“COPPA does not allow companies to keep children’s data forever for any reason, and certainly not to train their algorithms,” Levine said in a statement.

Officials cited Amazon’s privacy disclosures, which “assert that it designed Alexa with privacy in mind” and “that Amazon will delete users’ voice and geolocation data (and children’s voice data) upon request.”

“But until September 2019, Amazon retained children’s voice recordings and transcripts indefinitely unless a parent actively deleted them,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint is one of two federal lawsuits accusing Amazon of data and privacy violations, according to the FTC. The other, filed May 31, involves Ring LLC, a home security camera company bought by Amazon in 2018.

Federal officials say Ring exposed customers to “spying and harassment” by letting employees access users’ private video recordings.

“While we disagree with the FTC’s claims regarding both Alexa and Ring, and deny violating the law, these settlements put these matters behind us,” Amazon said in a statement. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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