Amazon is at the centre of another privacy row after it was hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers are recording children.
The lawsuits allege that “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent.”
It comes 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.
But privacy jitters were raised again last month when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before a command is actually issued.
Amazon describes it as “a system for capturing and processing portions of a spoken utterance command that may occur before a wakeword,” a development that one security expert described as alarming.
Essentially it means that if the new patent is implemented, Alexa-devices would constantly record audio around them, allowing them to respond to a command even if the wake word is at the very end.
But the news that report that Amazon allegedly records people’s voice has resulted in it being stung with two lawsuits, filed by parents on behalf an 8 year-old child in California, and 10 year old in Washington state.
“Most people believe that when they speak to an Alexa-enabled device, it converts their voice into a set of digital computer instructions,” reads the California lawsuit. “They expect that this digital query is sent over the internet for processing, that a digital response is returned, and that the device then converts the response into Alexa’s voice. They do not expect that Alexa is creating and storing a permanent recording of their voice.”
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon saves a permanent recording of the user’s voice on their servers, and that it has built a “massive database of billions of voice recordings containing the private details of millions of Americans.”
“Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” the California suit states. “This practice violates California law, which prohibits the recording of oral communications without the consent of all parties to the communication.”
And in a case of unfortunate timing, Amazon this week begun marketing an updated range of Alexa-powered speakers to kids, known as the Echo Dot Kids Edition.
The fact that Alexa may or may not record audio clips has not gone unnoticed by law enforcement.
Last year judge in the US for example asked Amazon to hand over audio recordings from an Amazon Echo speaker.
The Echo speaker in question was located in a house in New Hampshire, where the bodies of two women with multiple stab wounds were found under the porch of the house.
Prior to that in 2016, US police wanted access to some audio data that may have been recorded on an Amazon Echo in a murder investigation of Victor Collins, who was found on 22 November 2015, in a hot tub at the home of Andrew Bates.
Police found signs of a struggle, including spots of blood and broken bottles, as well as an Amazon Echo on the home’s kitchen counter.
Amazon initially refused to hand over the data, but in March 2017 the impasse was resolved when the defendant, Andrew Bates, consented to allow the data to be handed over, which Amazon did.
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