- Jul 27, 2015
Amazon is being sued over its smart assistant's recordings of children.
Two US cases allege the firm lacks consent to create voiceprints that could let it keep track of a youngster's use of Alexa-enabled devices and thus build up a "vast level of detail about the child's life". Amazon has said it only stores data once a device-owner has given it permission to do so. And it says parents can delete a child's profile and recordings. Lawyers involved in the cases are seeking damages for the two plaintiffs involved, as well as others who are being invited to join the class-action lawsuits in nine states where it's claimed Amazon is in breach of privacy laws. Amazon said in January more than 100 million devices featuring Alexa had been sold worldwide, ranging from its own Echo speakers to third-party products including headphones, fridges and televisions.
The complaints say Alexa devices could have been designed to only send a digital query rather than a voice recording to Amazon's servers - although processing the audio locally would have disadvantages such as potentially driving up the cost of the devices involved and making it harder for Amazon to deploy updates to its voice-recognition tech. Alternatively, it is suggested that Amazon could automatically overwrite the recordings shortly after they have been processed, although this might affect the smart assistant's ability to deliver personalised replies. Even if neither of these options were adopted, the plaintiffs suggest that more could be done to ensure children and others were aware of what was going on. "At no point does Amazon warn unregistered users it is creating persistent voice recordings of their Alexa interactions, let alone obtain their consent to do so," the complaints state. "Neither the children not the parents have consented to the children's interactions being permanently recorded.