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Amazon to Pay $25 Million to Settle Children’s Privacy Charges

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Amazon agreed on Wednesday to pay a civil penalty of $25 million to settle federal charges that it kept sensitive information collected from children for years, including their precise locations and voice recordings, in violation of a children’s online privacy law.

It was the most recent legal motion in an intensifying regulatory effort to require among the world’s largest tech platforms to higher safeguard their younger users.

The case, brought by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, centers on Amazon’s handling of the non-public details it collected from children who conversed with Alexa, the corporate’s voice-activated virtual assistant.

In a legal criticism filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, regulators said the tech giant had kept young people’s Alexa voice recordings indefinitely and used the information for business purposes like training its algorithm to know children, violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

That law, often known as COPPA, requires online services geared toward people younger than 13 to acquire parental consent before collecting a toddler’s personal details and to permit parents to have their children’s data deleted. But even after parents sought to delete their children’s voice recordings, Amazon didn’t delete transcripts of the youngsters’s conversations with Alexa from all its databases, regulators said.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated” the youngsters’s online privacy law and “sacrificed privacy for profits,” Samuel Levine, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in an announcement. “COPPA doesn’t allow firms to maintain children’s data eternally for any reason, and definitely not to coach their algorithms.”

The criticism also charged Amazon with deceiving consumers, including parents, by repeatedly assuring users they might delete data, like their Alexa voice recordings, yet failing to adequately honor users’ deletion requests.

​Though it agreed to settle the costs, Amazon said it disagreed with the F.T.C.’s claims and denied violating the youngsters’s law.

“We built Alexa with strong privacy protections and customer controls,” the corporate said in an announcement. The statement added that the corporate had designed Amazon Kids, a service that permits parents to administer games, books and other content for his or her children, to comply with the youngsters’s online privacy law, and that Amazon had worked with the F.T.C. before expanding the youngsters’s content service to incorporate Alexa.​

Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreement, Amazon could be required to delete children’s voice recordings and precise location data in addition to inactive Alexa accounts belonging to children. The proposed agreement also prohibits Amazon from misrepresenting the way it handles users’ voice recordings, precise location data and youngsters’s data.

A federal court must approve the settlement order.

The Amazon case comes at a moment of heightened public concern over how some outstanding social networks, video game services and device makers treat their younger users. It highlights intensifying efforts by the Federal Trade Commission to force large tech platforms to bolster protections for sensitive information, like precise location or personal health details, whose disclosure could pose privacy or physical risks to adult consumers and youngsters.

Last December, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, agreed to pay $520 million to settle accusations by the F.T.C. that it had illegally harvested data from players under 13 and, individually, steered hundreds of thousands of users to make unwanted payments. In 2019, Google agreed to pay a $170 million penalty to settle charges from the F.T.C. and the attorney general of Recent York that it had violated children’s privacy on YouTube.

The intensifying regulatory push to guard children online just isn’t limited to the USA. Last September, Irish regulators announced they’d levy a advantageous of about $400 million against Meta for its handling of kids’s information on Instagram. Meta said it disagreed and planned to appeal.

In a separate case on Wednesday, the F.T.C. accused Ring, the house security camera service, of committing “egregious violations” of users’ privacy, saying that privacy and security failures at the corporate had enabled employees to illegally listen in on customers and allowed hackers to hijack users’ accounts.

Regulators said that Ring, which Amazon acquired in 2018, had “unreasonable” data security and privacy practices from no less than 2016 through January 2020.

In 2017, as an example, one Ring worker viewed hundreds of videos belonging to dozens of female customers, including in sensitive locations just like the women’s bedrooms and bathrooms, the agency said in a legal criticism filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The proposed settlement order would require Amazon to pay $5.8 million in consumer refunds, institute stringent security measures and delete algorithms or other data products derived from the illegal viewing of consumers’ videos.

In an announcement, Amazon said Ring had addressed the safety and privacy issues before the F.T.C. had begun its inquiry.

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