Amazon negotiated a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over the company’s behavior with Ring doorbell camera and Alexa data.

Amazon’s Privacy Violations Should Concern Customers

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

Separately, the company agreed to pay $5.8 million in customer refunds for alleged privacy violations involving its doorbell camera Ring.

The filing alleges Ring and its third-party contractors could download and otherwise access all of its customers’ videos, with no hurdles at any point, up until July 2017.

In addition to the settlement, which is said to be good for 20 years, Ring must also take action regarding privacy transparency.

Moving forward, Ring must divulge to its customers just how much of their data is available to Ring itself and its contractors.

Parents Are On High Alert

“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 FCT consumer protection chief, said in a statement. The 1998 law is designed to shield children from online harm.

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

“Our devices and services are built to protect customer’s privacy and to provide customers with control over their experience,” said Ring spokesperson Mai Nguyen. “While we disagree with the FTC’s claims regarding both Alexa and Ring and deny violating the law, these settlements put these matters behind us.”

It’s Not The First Time Amazon Took Liberty With ‘Private’ Data

According to the FTC’s complaint, Ring had zero technical or procedural protections for users’ videos until 2017, giving employees and contractors unrestricted access to watch, download, and share the footage — even if the videos had nothing to do with particular employee’s jobs.

“Ring’s disregard for privacy and security exposed consumers to spying and harassment,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release. “The FTC’s order makes clear that putting profit over privacy doesn’t pay.”

For example, the lawsuit says one Ring employee watched thousands of videos from at least 81 female Ring users, including both customers and company employees. The unnamed voyeur searched for cameras labeled with names including “Master Bedroom,” “Master Bathroom,” or “Spy Cam.” Reports in outlets including the Intercept and the Information found similar problems when investigations found Ukrainian contractors had similar access. Amazon previously said it fired four employees for inappropriately watching user videos.

Ring was acquired by Amazon for $1 billion in 2018, and was meant to be a big push for Amazon in the smart home market. In 2020, the company paused data sharing in an effort to rework its privacy controls.

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