Parents Are Suing Amazon Over Alexa Recording Their Children
Amazon is facing a lawsuit across multiple U.S. states for allegedly violating privacy laws by recording what children say to the voice-activated virtual assistant.
The lawsuit alleges that the Alexa device is recording children's voices without their consent, which violates laws governing voice recordings in at least eight states.
One of the complaints was filed on behalf of a 10-year-old Massachussetts girl in a Seattle federal court earlier this week, while another was filed to California Superior Court in Los Angeles on behalf of an eight-year-old boy.
The children had both interacted with the Echo Dot speakers in their homes, asking the devices to tell jokes, play music, solve maths problems and answer trivia questions.
"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 stated.
Alexa works by routing these recordings to Amazon servers, and the lawsuits state that -- even though the process is more financially demanding for the company -- these recordings should be processed locally into a digital format.
The complaints note that the "permanent recording of the user's voice" is unlike any other voice-controlled devices. Other technologies store these recordings for only a short time or do not record them at all.
The lawsuits allege that Amazon build a "vast level of detail about the child's life" based on these recordings.
Two-party consent laws for voice recordings exist in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington.
However, some of these laws have been disputed in recent years on the grounds of constitutional violation.
This is not the first time Amazon have been criticised for violating privacy with their Alexa devices.
In May 2018, a U.S. family said that their device had recorded an entire conversation and sent it to a random contact.
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The device had apparently 'woken' into a responsive mode when a word in the background sounded similar to 'Alexa', which is used to speak to the device.
In April of this year, Amazon confirmed that voice recordings were heard by Amazon employees in India, Costa Rica, the U.S. and other countries around the world as part of the process of improving its machine learning.
However, the company stated that the data was only used "to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems".
Amazon announced in January of this year that more than 100 million Alexa devices have been sold worldwide.
About 17 percent of U.S. households now have the device, while about 5 percent of Australian households use one due to their late entry into the Aussie market and the relative popularity of Google Assistant.