Amazon isn’t just settling over Ring doorbell privacy concerns. The online retailer has agreed to pay a $25 million settlement over Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allegations it violated child privacy through Alexa. The company allegedly fell afoul of both the FTC Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) through its handling of kids’ voice data.
While the company said it limited access to voice data and promised to delete info on request, it kept children’s recordings and transcripts indefinitely by default until September 2019, according to the FTC. The Commission also says Amazon failed to delete transcripts for a “significant period of time,” and was still holding on to voice info and geolocation data.
In response, Amazon has issued a statement that it ‘disagrees’ with the FTC’s claims and is settling to put the matter “behind us.” It maintains that Amazon Kids was designed with COPPA in mind, and that parents have easy ways to delete recordings and transcripts on the web. The company also says it will delete child profiles that haven’t been used for at least 18 months, addressing an FTC concern that data could linger for years.
Amazon made it possible to delete your voice history using Alexa back in May 2019, but it wasn’t enabled by default. It also let you opt out of human reviews for transcripts in August that year. The changes came after a revelation that Amazon had workers reviewing audio clips and transcripts to improve Alexa’x understanding of speech. There were worries staff might listen to sensitive information and otherwise hear things customers didn’t want others to know.
This settlement follows another with Ring that was announced simultaneously. The FTC sued Ring saying that it had allowed employees and third-party contractors full access to customer video content. Some employees and contractors abused this access and violated the privacy of Ring customers and other Ring workers. The FTC also said that Amazon allowed these issues to continue for a good two years after purchasing Ring in 2018, saying that the security lapses took place from 2016 into 2020. The settlement was for a paltry $5.8 million.
The Alexa and Ring settlements are the latest embodiments of Amazon’s fears about the FTC under chairwoman Lina Khan. The lead regulator has long been a proponent of crackdowns against Big Tech, including Amazon, and her agency recently grilled the company over its acquisition of One Medical. Although the penalties aren’t large, it’s evident the FTC wants to keep this heavyweight in check.