WASHINGTON (WCMH) — The Federal Trade Commission says Amazon illegally violated children’s privacy — and it’s making the tech company pay for it.
In the agency’s proposed order demanding a $25 million settlement from Amazon this week, the company is accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
“Amazon promised to delete children’s personal information and Alexa users’ voice and geolocation information but broke the law instead,” the FTC said in a press release. “The FTC and the Department of Justice said Amazon violated children’s privacy law by keeping kids’ Alexa voice recordings forever to feed its voice-related algorithms.”
“Using it to inform their (artificial intelligence) was the purpose, but it still is something that they should have known better,” said Denise Bergstrom, chair of Franklin University’s cybersecurity program.
Bergstrom said companies as large as Amazon should have layers of accountability in place to protect user data, but there are real safety concerns if the data ends up in the wrong hands.
“That could allow someone to stalk your child if it got out — if those pieces of information are put together, they’re breadcrumbs that could help a perpetrator to identify and target your kid,” she said.
In a statement following the FTC’s announcement, Amazon wrote that it takes its “responsibilities to [its] customers and their families very seriously” and designed Amazon Kids to comply with child privacy laws.
“While we disagree with the FTC’s claims and deny violating the law, this settlement puts the matter behind us,” the technology giant said. “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.”
While Amazon’s Alexa app contains privacy settings, Bergstrom said navigating those settings should be a more user-friendly experience, as is the case with many apps that store user data.
“Those safeguards are — they tend to be buried. And they tend to require a number of understandings where — OK, this is what we would call it. This is where it would be hidden. This is what it means,” she said.
Because there are so many different devices and operating systems out there, Bergstrom said the best way to learn about the privacy settings is to search for instructions online. She recommends checking two separate sources.
NBC4 asked Bergstrom for her most important advice to parents following the FTC’s announcement.
“The biggest thing is to be aware that this is out there. And when you have the opportunity to limit that access, do so,” Bergstrom said. “It’s better to then go back and modify those choices later to allow additional access if a situation changes than it is to try to take it back.”
You can find the FTC’s resources for protecting children’s privacy online here.