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Some 30,000 Amazon employees could spy on Alexa users: FTC

Amazon has paid $25 million to settle federal allegations that tens of thousands of its employees had access to Alexa users’ voice recordings picked up by the smart device’s speakers.

US regulators made the allegation in a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission that has resulted in the $25 million settlement, according to Bloomberg News.

The FTC claimed that 30,000 Amazon employees were able to listen to Alexa customers’ recordings between the period covering August 2018 and September 2019.

It is unclear how many Amazon employees have the same access today.

The FTC alleged that Amazon “kept sensitive voice and geolocation data for years, and used it for its own purposes, while putting data at risk of harm from unnecessary access.”

Amazon was accused of violating a child privacy law and of deceiving parents by keeping for years kids’ voice and location data recorded by Alexa.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits,” Samuel Levine, the FTC consumer protection chief, said in a statement.

The 1998 law is designed to shield children from online harms.

The FTC alleged that Amazon employees had access to customers’ recordings through Alexa devices.

The company “will be required to delete inactive child accounts and certain voice recordings and geolocation information and will be prohibited from using such data to train its algorithms.”

FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said in a statement that “when parents asked Amazon to delete their kids’ Alexa voice data, the company did not delete all of it.”

“Nothing is more visceral to a parent than the sound of their child’s voice,” tweeted Bedoya, the father of two small children.

A spokesperson for Amazon told The Post: “At Amazon, we take our responsibilities to our customers and their families very seriously.”

“We built Alexa with strong privacy protections and customer controls, designed Amazon Kids to comply with COPPA (the Child Online Privacy Protection Act), and collaborated with the FTC before expanding Amazon Kids to include Alexa,” the spokesperson added.

Amazon logo
Amazon has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over alleged violations of children’s privacy.

“While we disagree with the FTC’s claims and deny violating the law, this settlement puts the matter behind us.”

The spokesperson continued: “As part of the settlement, we agreed to make a small modification to our already strong practices, and will remove child profiles that have been inactive for more than 18 months unless a parent or guardian chooses to keep them.”

Amazon said last month that it has sold more than a half-billion Alexa-enabled devices globally and that use of the service increased 35% last year.

In the Ring case, the FTC says Amazon’s home security camera subsidiary let employees and contractors access consumers’ private videos and providing lax security practices that enabled hackers to take control of some accounts.

Amazon bought California-based Ring in 2018, and many of the violations alleged by the FTC predate the acquisition.

Ring security system
The FTC alleges that Amazon’s Ring home security camera let employees and contractors access consumers’ private videos.

Under the FTC’s order, Ring is required to pay $5.8 million that would be used for consumer refunds.

Amazon told the Associated Press it disagreed with the FTC’s claims on both Alexa and Ring and denied violating the law.

But it said the settlements “put these matters behind us.”

The Alexa-related action orders Amazon to overhaul its data deletion practices and impose stricter, more transparent privacy measures.

It also obliges the tech giant to delete certain data collected by its internet-connected digital assistant, which people use for everything from checking the weather to playing games and queuing up music.

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