When Amazon launched its kid’s version of the Echo Dot smart speaker a year ago, we hoped it would be a technological blessing, rather than a curse. But as further proof that private information is no longer sacred, a complaint filed yesterday with the Federal Trade Commission alleges that the devices are unlawfully storing kids’ data—even after parents attempt to delete it.
Child and privacy advocacy groups—most notably the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy—submitted a 96-page complaint with the FTC that alleges, in part, that:
- Amazon’s process for reviewing personal information places undue burden on parents. (Parents cannot search through the information and must instead read or listen to every voice recording of their child’s interaction with the device in order to review.)
- Amazon’s parental consent mechanism does not provide assurance that the person giving consent is the parent of the child.
- Amazon does not give notice or obtain parental consent before recording the voices of children who do not live in the home (visiting friends, family, etc.) with the owner of the device. They advertise having the technology to create voice profiles for customized user experiences but fail to use it to stop information collection from unrecognized children.
- Amazon’s website and literature directs parents trying to delete information collected about their child to the voice recording deletion page and fails to disclose that deleting voice recordings does not delete the underlying information.
- Amazon keeps children’s personal information longer than reasonably necessary. It only deletes information if a parent explicitly requests deletion by contacting customer service; otherwise it is retained forever.
To further prove its point, the CCFC performed a test in which a child told Alexa to “remember” a fake name, social security number, telephone number, address and food allergy. Alexa remembered and repeated the information, despite several attempts by an adult to delete or edit it.
In response to the complaint, an Amazon spokesperson said in an email, “FreeTime on Alexa and Echo Dot Kids Edition are compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” and directed users to more information on its privacy practices here.