FTC charges Amazon for privacy violations involving Alexa and Ring

Jun 2, 2023, 10:06 AM UTC
3 mins read
FTC charges Amazon for privacy violations involving Alexa and Ring
(Image courtesy of Amazon)

Amazon has agreed to pay a total of $31 million in penalties to settle allegations of privacy violations involving its popular voice assistant, Alexa, and its home security camera subsidiary, Ring. The settlement includes a $25 million civil penalty for violating child privacy laws and deceiving parents regarding the collection and retention of children’s voice and location data by Alexa. Additionally, the company will pay $5.8 million in customer refunds for alleged privacy violations related to Ring.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought forth the allegations against Amazon, accusing the tech giant of unlawfully storing and using children’s data collected through Alexa. The FTC claimed that Amazon had kept kids’ recordings indefinitely, despite parents’ requests for deletion, thereby violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and prioritizing profits over privacy.

Samuel Levine, the FTC consumer protection chief, criticized Amazon for its misleading practices, stating, “Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits.” The 1998 law aims to safeguard children from online threats and privacy breaches.

FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya emphasized that Amazon failed to fully comply with parents’ requests to delete their children’s Alexa voice data. The agency ordered Amazon to delete inactive child accounts and specific voice and geolocation data. Bedoya further explained that Amazon had retained children’s data to enhance its voice recognition algorithm, which powers the Alexa-enabled devices.

The FTC’s complaint sends a strong message to tech companies competing to develop artificial intelligence (AI) datasets, according to Bedoya. He emphasized the importance of protecting children’s privacy and urged other companies to avoid similar violations.

Amazon, in response to the settlements, expressed disagreement with the FTC’s claims but stated that it is committed to resolving the matters. The company asserted that its devices and services prioritize customer privacy and provide users with control over their experience.

As part of the settlement, Amazon will be required to revamp its data deletion practices and implement more transparent privacy measures. The company must also delete certain data collected by Alexa and create a privacy program to address its use of geolocation information. Moreover, Amazon is prohibited from using deleted geolocation and voice data to create or improve any data product.

It is worth noting that the settlements with the FTC are still subject to approval by federal judges.

The FTC commissioners unanimously voted to file charges against Amazon in both the Alexa and Ring cases. The allegations against Ring involved claims of employees and contractors accessing consumers’ private videos and weak security practices that allowed hackers to gain control over user accounts. Amazon acquired Ring in 2018, and many of the alleged violations predate the acquisition.

Amazon’s settlement with the FTC serves as a reminder to tech companies about the importance of prioritizing user privacy and complying with regulations. The outcome of these cases could have a significant impact on the development and use of AI datasets in the future. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial for companies to strike a balance between innovation and protecting users’ personal information.

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