Amazon Sanctioned for Violation of Privacy

The Amazon Echo Dot, a voice-controlled streaming device. | Image by George W. Bailey/Shutterstock.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have sanctioned Amazon for violating the privacy of children who use Alexa devices.

The FTC and DOJ found Amazon in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA). The agencies also said the company undermined data deletion requests from parents and continued to use data, including geolocation data, against parental will.

According to the complaint filed by the DOJ on behalf of the FTC, Amazon repeatedly assured users they could delete voice recordings captured by Alexa devices. Amazon, however, did not delete the data and continually used voice recordings of children unlawfully. Amazon said they retained the recordings to help the applications improve speech recognition capabilities and to allow parents to access the recordings.

The FTC said that Amazon failed to provide an adequate process to delete user data and prioritized algorithmic training over user privacy. The Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to fine Amazon $25 million and force the company to adopt several policies, including public notification of the FTC’s ruling, prohibition on utilizing deleted geolocation voice locations, and a mandated privacy program.

The Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine, issued a statement decrying Amazon’s practices after the ruling.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits. COPPA does not allow companies to keep children’s data forever for any reason, and certainly not to train their algorithms,” Levine said.

An FTC press release highlighted these recent actions by the federal entities as proof of their commitment to protecting consumer privacy.

“Today’s announcement underscores the FTC’s commitment to protecting not only children’s privacy but the privacy of all consumers.”

The Department of Justice also filed a court order requiring Amazon to delete inactive accounts associated with children under 13 years of age. The court order will require approval in federal court to take effect.

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