MP Calls For Tougher Laws, Amid Alexa Privacy Concerns

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Privacy concerns about Alexa spying on people prompts one MP to call for toughened new laws

Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant and its Echo-based smart speakers are once again at the centre of a privacy debate.

Damian Collins MP, chairman of the influential cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has urged new Prime Minister Damian Collins to toughen online harms legislation.

His call comes after a spate of privacy scares surrounding Alexa. Amazon did not help matters last month when it admitted in a letter to a US senator that it keeps Alexa user voice recordings indefinitely.

Online harms

According to the Sun newspaper, Collins said that the PM must beef up new online harms legislation to get tough with the likes of Amazon and Apple.

He reportedly said they had to come clean over data harvested through smart speakers – and be forced to destroy it.

The Alexa-activated Echo speaker for example and other devices are supposed to be activated by trigger words.

“That is clearly not the case,” Collins reportedly said. “The companies need to come clean about how often this is happening and what is happening to the data.”

“Clearly voice-activated devices are going to be a big part of our lives and I think we need to look at the online harms legislation that is being proposed and take some of these issues into account,” he added.

“There needs to be a regulator that can investigate how this data is being collected, how it is used and guarantee this data is destroyed.”

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ information seriously,” Amazon told the newspaper. “We label a fraction of one percent (0.2%) of customer interactions in order to improve the customer experience.”

Privacy jitters

In May Amazon was hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers are recording children.

Those lawsuits alleged that “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent.”

That legal action came after it was reported earlier this year that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people speaking to their Alexa-powered smart speakers, to help improve its functionality.

Jitters were raised again about Amazon again in May when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before a command is actually issued.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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