Amazon is staring down the barrel of a possible class-action lawsuit for seemingly violating state laws in two of a handful of states that do not allow the non-consensual recording of children’s voices. Concerned parent Alison Hall-O’Neil filed a complaint in a Seattle court on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter for the aforementioned violation on 11th Tuesday, June 2019.
Elsewhere, similar charges were brought before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on the very same day. This time, an 8-year-old boy is deemed to be the victim in a proposed class-action that seeks to bring together minors- and adults alike- from the affected states. Permeant voice recording without permission from the user, age notwithstanding, is illegal in Washington, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. It’s also in breach of the laws of Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Florida and warrants prosecution.
The lawsuit states that Alexa’s recordings not only go against privacy regulations but that they are possibly being used for shady marketing gains to boost sales. The behavioral patterns and interests of users are allegedly recorded by the e-commerce giant in a bid to hit the mark with future product releases via the tracked usage of Alexa-imbued devices. A notion perhaps substantiated by a Bloomberg report.
Bloomberg findings have hinted at a wider conspiracy behind the curtains, bringing to light how Amazon contractors and employees go through mountains of audio clips from enabled devices. Amazon, however, went on the defensive countering that audio sampling is a part of bettering user experience.
Where Alexa raises red flags
The company has made a few steps in the right direction providing what they term “verifiable parent content” via Alexa “Skills” and the Amazon FreeTime initiative. These services help parents separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of age-appropriate material. Personal information is recorded only after separate disclosure and consent.
While that’s all well and good, these requirements do not extend to the general use of Alexa beyond these two programs. The lawsuit argues that Alexa doesn’t require outright consent with the terms of service simply stating that use of the device proves as consent.
Lawyer Andrew Schapiro, one of the plaintiff’s legal representation, further points out the discrepancies with the vague use of the word “you”. He says that the person being addressed as “agreeing to the terms of services” is unclear because the pronoun may or may not refer to a number of people whose identities remain speculative. He even questions the possibility of a “terms of service” that umbrellas an entire household.
If ruled in their favor, members of the class-suit (if it passes for a class-action that is) could receive damages of up to $5,000 each. Amazon will also be mandated to cease further recording until such a time when they come up with a consensual system. Existing records will also be deleted forthright as per the determination of the court.
For now, Amazon will be left biting its teeth and lawyering up for one of their biggest fights since the “Fake Reviewers” scandal.