Lawsuits Claim Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Illegally Records Children Without Consent

An Amazon Echo.
Photo: Elaine Thompson (AP)

A pair of federal lawsuits against Amazon seeking class action status allege that the e-commerce giant’s Alexa voice assistant technology “routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” breaking laws in nine states, the Seattle Times reported on Wednesday.

Per the Recorder, the two suits—filed on behalf of an eight year old child in California and a 10 year old child in Massachusetts—were filed by by Travis Lenkner of Chicago’s Keller Lenkner and L.A.-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Those complaints, filed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and Los Angeles Superior Court, seek damages under privacy laws in nine states: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

“What all nine have in common is they are what’s known as two-party consent states,” Lenkner told the Recorder. “An audio recording of a conversation or of another person requires the consent of both sides to that interaction in these states and when such consent is not obtained these state laws contain penalties, including set amounts of statutory damages per violation.”

Advertisement

According to the Times, the complaint argues that Amazon saves “a permanent recording of the user’s voice” as well as records and transmits clips of anything said after Alexa’s “wake word” is uttered. It also claims that Alexa neither informs users that these permanent recordings will be created nor bothers to ask for their consent beforehand:

It says the Alexa system is capable of identifying individual speakers based on their voices and Amazon could choose to inform users who had not previously consented that they were being recorded and ask for consent. It could also deactivate permanent recording for users who had not consented.

“But Alexa does not do this,” the lawsuit claims. “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.”

Advertisement

The complaint proposes that the potential class action include minors in the states “who have used Alexa in their home and have therefore been recorded by Amazon, without consent,” the Times wrote.

An Amazon spokeswoman referred the Recorder to information about Amazon FreeTime, while includes Alexa support and bills itself as a “dedicated service that helps parents manage the ways their kids interact with technology, including limiting screen time.” While FreeTime does allow parents to delete children’s profiles or recordings and requires listed apps to ask for consent to collect data, and Alexa “skills” aimed at children have similar consent requirements, the Times noted that children’s use of Alexa outside those scenarios is not discussed in the company’s FAQ.

Advertisement

A broader Amazon disclosure on children’s privacy lists examples of information the company may collect on children, the Times wrote, and elsewhere the Alexa terms of service assert sweeping rights:

A broader children’s privacy disclosure discusses Amazon’s collection of personal information from children under 13 — which may include “name, birthdate, contact information (including phone numbers and e-mail addresses), voice, photos, videos, location, and certain activity and device information and identifiers” — noting “in some cases we may know a child is using our services (for example, when using a child profile).” In those cases, collecting that information requires parental consent.

Amazon’s Alexa terms of use detail its agreement between “you” and Amazon, noting at the outset that “if you do not accept the terms of this agreement, then you may not use Alexa.”

Advertisement

Attorney Andrew Schapiro told the Times he believed the “you” provision was overly broad, adding that he doubts “you could even design terms of service that bind ‘everyone in your household.’” According to the Times, the plaintiffs are asking for a judge to certify the class action, that Amazon delete all recordings of class members, and seeks damages that would be determined at trial.

[Seattle Times]

Advertisement

Share This Story

About the author

Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post