Amazon Pays Settlement for Spying on You, but You Won’t See a Dime

Gabriel Gurzo /
Gabriel Gurzo /

Just over 30 million dollars.

That’s how much your privacy and personal data are worth in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In two separate cases on May 31st, Amazon faced allegations that will likely result in them being forced to delete data collected by their Alexa home system and ring doorbells.

Alexa was found to have retained children’s recordings indefinitely unless parents called to specifically request that data be scrubbed, and even then, they were found to have often kept transcripts of the recordings. This was a massive deception made on the people who were putting Alexa into their homes who were led to believe that the device wouldn’t do such things.

Now, the FTC has ordered the deletion of inactive children’s accounts, as well as specific voice info and crucial geolocation data. Additionally, they will pay a $25 million fine for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said Amazon claimed that the collections of the children’s voice data were to refine and improve their voice recognition algorithms.

A secondary statement from Bedoya also said that it sends a message to other organizations looking to follow Amazon’s voice recognition lead. In a subsequent tweet, he said: “Nothing is more visceral to a parent than the sound of their child’s voice.” The father of two small children took the case incredibly personally and rightfully got the needed ruling.

The Ring case is a more unique but equally damaging case. With most of the violations coming from before Amazon acquired the company in 2018, they centered on the lax security of the company. With such lenient practices, employees and contractors had full access to private videos of customers, and the devices were subject to easy and frequent attacks by hackers.

In this ruling, $5.8 million was the figure, with these funds being slated to issue customer refunds. However, much of this money has either already been paid, or because the systems have been replaced, original claimants may not be eligible to get paid for the previous violations. With a lot of details left to hammer out about how the FTC will ensure these payments are made, many are unsure about what to expect going forward.

What is known is just how little this ruling will impact Amazon.

$30 million to Amazon is roughly the same as a nickel to your average working-class person. With such little care for the company, they claimed they were ready to “put these matters behind us.” The conglomerate also said, “Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy and to provide customers with control over their experience.”

A federal judge still has to approve the proposed orders, but it seems to be little more than a formality at this point. With FTC commissioners all in agreement to file charges against Amazon, they wanted to make an example of what can happen when you use data incorrectly and when you violate the consumer’s trust.

To further hammer that point home, the orders also contend that Amazon did not use any of the deleted geolocation or voice information for creating or improving any data-based products or services. Additionally, a privacy program will become required for geolocation data. While these seem like obvious and logical responses to the charges, they are certainly not common.

Amazon’s misuse of data has plagued many modern households. From Alexa recognizing phrases it shouldn’t to interference with other appliances or Ring doorbells allowing people to spy on their neighbors, these devices have failed to do what their consumers expected from them. Instead, they have only served to cause more problems with their users than they have been worth in many cases.

Amazon and other device manufacturers have been sneaking more and more into our daily lives with “convenience” items. Their theft and misuse of the shopping and habits data we, as people produce, should never have been occurring, and seeing the FTC finally standing up to them for this is something that is long overdue. Too bad they won’t stop – they’ll only amend their tactics.