Amazon is facing a potential class action lawsuit due to its recording policies with Alexa. According to a report in The Seattle Times, the lawsuit was filed in Seattle on behalf of a ten-year-old girl in Massachusetts, and alleges that the tech giant has been illegally recording the conversations of children without the consent of the children or their parents.
Unlike other virtual assistants (like Apple’s Siri), Alexa does not delete a user’s voice recordings after carrying out a request. Alexa instead makes a permanent recording of everything said after being woken up, including the voices of other people in the room. The lawsuit takes particular issue with that default setting, noting that the consent of all parties is required to make a recording in eight US states, including Massachusetts and Washington.
“At no point does Amazon warn unregistered users that it is creating persistent voice recordings of their Alexa interactions, let alone obtain their consent to do so,” says the lawsuit, which argues that Alexa’s terms of service do not extend to guests and children.
“I doubt you could even design terms of service that bind everyone in your household,” added Andrew Schapiro, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. In addition to seeking class action status, the plaintiffs are asking the court to rule that Amazon violated state laws, and for Amazon to delete existing recordings while refraining from gathering more in the future.
Shortly before the lawsuit was filed, Amazon introduced new voice commands that make it easier for users to delete Alexa recordings. While it was previously possible to do so, the old system was onerous and poorly publicized.
Amazon requires parental approval for its kid-oriented FreeTime services, but does not make the same request for the primary Alexa platform. Amazon has admitted that it uses the recordings to improve its AI. The lawsuit goes a step further and argues that Amazon is creating profiles of children to generate data that it can exploit in other ways.
July 10, 2019 – by Eric Weiss