Privacy Advocates Demand That the FTC Investigate Amazon's Digital Assistant for Kids

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Last year, Amazon released a cute little children’s version of its digital assistant, and just like the flagship product it is modeled after, it may also be a pretty powerful surveillance machine.

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On Thursday, privacy and child advocates filed a complaint urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Amazon’s Echo Dot devices—a voice-activated digital assistant designed specifically for kids—is compliant with The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), as well as a number of other organizations, listed a number of ways in which they believe Amazon’s devices violate this act, including improper recording and storage of a child’s personal information.

“FreeTime on Alexa and Echo Dot Kids Edition are compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “Customers can find more information on Alexa and overall privacy practices here: https://www.amazon.com/alexa/voice.”

The advocates also note in the complaint that their testing discovered that “deleting the voice recordings does not delete the transcription of those recordings,” and that it is “unduly burdensome for parents” to actually review and delete any of the children’s information that has been recorded by the device. It adds that in order for a parent to determine what personal information the Amazon Echo Dot collected, they have to listen to each recording and delete each of them. They also have to delete the child’s entire profile, something that apparently can only be accomplished by calling Amazon’s customer support.

“Amazon markets Echo Dot Kids as a device to educate and entertain kids, but the real purpose is to amass a treasure trove of sensitive data that it refuses to relinquish even when directed to by parents,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, told the Wall Street Journal.

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While Amazon’s assertion that its children’s products are in fact compliant with COPPA directly contradicts a number of potential privacy violations detailed in the complaint, an FTC investigation would certainly help illuminate whether these concerns are warranted. Amazon has a pretty shitty track record when it comes to following through on its pledges of privacy, and in this case, those failures (whether intentional or not) would harm some of its most vulnerable users.

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Reporter at Gizmodo

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