Is Alexa Violating Children’s Privacy?
Amazon is facing two new lawsuits this week from parents alleging that Alexa smart speakers are violating children’s privacy. The lawsuits, brought in California and Washington State, claim that the recordings made by Alexa are done without parental consent and therefore violate privacy laws.
Amazon and other smart speaker manufacturers are not new to trying to deal with customer privacy concerns, especially with regard to children. It was only after the FTC updated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 2017 that Amazon, as well as Google and other smart speaker manufacturers, started to allow programs aimed at children on their platform. Prior to the 2017 update, Amazon even went to the trouble of removing early Alexa skills such as math quizzes from the skill store that they deemed could violate COPPA. Alexa skills and Google Actions made for kids today require parents to affirm their consent before they can be used.
According to the new lawsuits, the issue is that Amazon is permanently storing Alexa interactions with children. They claim that keeping those recordings forever is not something to which the parents have consented. Even before the new lawsuits, reports of privacy violations led to children’s advocacy groups requesting an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over alleged COPPA violations.
The lawsuits come the same week that Amazon announced the new version of its Echo Dot Kids Edition. Though largely similar to Amazon’s other Echo Dot products, the Kids Edition includes a year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon’s kid-specific services for Echo, Fire tablets and other devices.
Just ahead of the new Kids Edition, Amazon took steps to assuage skeptical customers who hesitate to buy their smart speakers. A new privacy center for Alexa debuted earlier this month, and Amazon revealed there were new commands to make Alexa delete its recordings of the day.
Arguably, a bigger question is whether kids are using skills that don’t require parental consent. And, if so, does that mean the makers of voice assistants and smart speakers are inadvertently violating COPPA?