FTC charges Amazon with privacy violations over Alexa and Ring cameras

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By AP News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amazon will pay more than $30 million to settle alleged privacy violations involving its voice assistant Alexa and its doorbell camera Ring.

The Federal Trade Commission voted to file charges in two separate cases Wednesday that could also force the company to delete certain data collected by its popular internet-connected devices.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the Alexa case, the FTC said Amazon had deceived users of the voice assistance service for years. It retained children’s recordings indefinitely unless a parent requested the information be deleted, the agency said, and even when it deleted those recordings, Amazon often kept the transcripts.

The FTC ordered the company to delete inactive child accounts as well as certain voice information and geolocation data.

In imposing a $25 million fine, the agency said Amazon had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and FTC Consumer Protection Chief Samuel Levine accused the tech giant of sacrificing “privacy for profits” in “flouting parents’ deletion requests.”

FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said Amazon kept kids’ data indefinitely to refine its voice recognition algorithm. In a separate statement, he said the Alexa ruling sends a message to all tech companies who are “sprinting to do the same” amid fierce competition in developing AI datasets.

“Nothing is more visceral to a parent than the sound of their child’s voice,” tweeted Bedoya, the father of two small children.

In the Ring case, the FTC accuses Amazon’s home security camera subsidiary of allowing its employees and contractors to access the private videos of consumers and providing lax security practices that enabled hackers to take control of some accounts.

Amazon bought California-based Ring in 2018, and many of the violations cited by the FTC predate the acquisition. The FTC’s order would require Ring to pay $5.8 million that would be used for consumer refunds.

The proposed orders must be approved by federal judges.

FTC commissioners unanimously voted to file the charges against Amazon in both cases. In addition to the fine in the Alexa case, the proposed order prohibits Amazon from using deleted geolocation and voice information to create or improve any data product. The order also requires Amazon to create a privacy program for its use of geolocation information.

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