Amazon Slapped with $25 Million Fine by US Federal Trade Commission for Breaching Children’s Privacy Laws with Alexa Voice Recordings
The e-commerce titan Amazon has been hit with a hefty penalty of $25 million by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating children’s privacy laws. The company was found guilty of retaining Alexa voice recordings of children and deceiving parents and users of the Alexa voice assistant service regarding its data deletion practices.
According to a joint statement released by the FTC and the Department of Justice, Amazon will be required to revamp its data deletion practices and implement robust privacy safeguards. This action comes as a consequence of Amazon’s breach of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule). Remarkably, the controversial involvement of AI in the legal sector continues as a US federal judge orders lawyers not to use content generated by ChatGPT in court.
The complaint reveals that Amazon hindered parents from exercising their rights to delete data under the COPPA Rule, retained sensitive voice and geolocation information for prolonged periods, and exploited it for its own purposes, exposing the data to unnecessary risks.
Samuel Levine, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, condemned Amazon’s actions, stating, “Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and disregarding parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and compromised privacy for profit. COPPA does not permit companies to indefinitely retain children’s data for any reason, let alone to train their algorithms.” In another news update, WhatsApp announces the upcoming introduction of the Status Archive feature for business users.
As part of the settlement, Amazon will be obligated to delete inactive child accounts, as well as specific voice recordings and geolocation data. Furthermore, the company will be prohibited from using such data to train its algorithms. The proposed order is subject to court approval before it can be enforced.
The complaint highlights that Amazon “prominently and repeatedly” assured its users, particularly parents, that they could delete voice recordings captured by the Alexa voice assistant and geolocation data obtained through the Alexa app. However, the company failed to fulfill these promises, as it retained some of this information for an extended period and unlawfully utilized it to enhance its Alexa algorithm.
Amazon claims that its Alexa service and Echo devices are designed to safeguard user privacy, allowing parents and other users to delete geolocation data and voice recordings. However, the complaint reveals that the company retained children’s voice recordings indefinitely unless a parent specifically requested their deletion. Additionally, when parents sought to erase the information, Amazon failed to remove transcripts of children’s speech from all its databases.
According to the FTC, Amazon neglected to establish an effective system to honor user data deletion requests and failed to provide meaningful notice to parents regarding deletion practices. Even when the company became aware of its shortcomings in deleting geolocation data, it repeatedly neglected to rectify the issues.