FTC hits Amazon with $25 million fine for violating child privacy with Alexa voice assistant

Category: Business


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. deceive / dɪˈsiv / (v.) – to hide the truth from someone or make him/her believe a false idea, usually to gain some advantage

    The store deceived the buyers by selling low-quality shoes for a high price.

  2. overhaul / ˌoʊ vərˈhɔl / (v.) – to improve something by making the necessary repairs or changes, usually in a system

    The university decided to overhaul its old curriculum.

  3. flout / flaʊt / (v.) – to intentionally break a rule, law, or custom without shame or fear

    Some beachgoers continue flouting the sign saying not to leave any trash behind.

  4. refine / rɪˈfaɪn / (v.) – to improve or develop something by making small changes regularly

    He spent four years inventing the machine and will take a few more years to refine it.

  5. algorithm / ˈæl gəˌrɪð əm / (n.) – a series of steps that are followed to automatically complete a computer process

    Social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram use algorithms to suggest personalized content for their users.


Read the text below.

Amazon agreed to pay a $25 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that it violated a child privacy law and deceived parents by keeping for years kids’ voice and location data recorded by its popular Alexa voice assistant.

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 queueing up music.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA (the Child Online Privacy Protection Act) 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 harm.

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.”

The agency ordered the company to delete inactive child accounts as well as certain voice and geolocation data.

Amazon kept the kids’ data to refine its voice recognition algorithm, the artificial intelligence behind Alexa, which powers Echo and other smart speakers, Bedoya said. The FTC complaint sends a message to all tech companies who are “sprinting to do the same” amid fierce competition in developing AI datasets, he added.

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.

Amazon said it disagreed with the FTC’s claims on Alexa and denied violating the law. But it said the settlements “put these matters behind us.”

“Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy, and to provide customers with control over their experience,” the Seattle-based company said.

In addition to the fine in the Alexa case, the proposed order prohibits Amazon from using deleted geolocation and voice information to create or improve any data product. The order also requires Amazon to create a privacy program for its use of geolocation information.

The proposed orders must be approved by federal judges.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Why do you think some people like using voice assistants like Amazon Alexa? Do you think this technology is necessary for your daily life? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Do you think it’s fair to allow private companies to collect users’ personal information for service improvement? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • FTC alleged that Amazon violated a child privacy law and deceived parents by keeping kids’ voice and location data recorded by Alexa. In your opinion, why is Amazon’s action a cause for concern? What harm does the action pose? Discuss.
  • FTC consumer protection chief Samuel Levine accused Amazon of sacrificing privacy for profits. But Amazon claims that their devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy. Which of the two sides do you believe? Why? Discuss.