Is Amazon Secretly Recording Your Kids?

Privacy advocates are calling on the FTC to investigate the Echo Dot Kids Edition. They say it won't forget what children tell it—even after parents try to delete the conversations.

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

May 10, 2019

If you own any kind of smart speaker, it's probably crossed your mind whether Big Brother could be listening in on your conversations. If you're like me, you kind of assumed, though, that child-friendly devices like Amazon's Echo Dot Kids Edition had built-in protection from prying eyes and ears, but some privacy advocates now say this isn't the case.

On Thursday, a coalition of groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Amazon had violated the Children's Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) with its Echo Dot Kids Edition. The complaint says Amazon keeps children's personal information longer than reasonably necessary, and parents can't simply tell the device to forget what the kids said: They have to contact customer service to have it deleted.

But Amazon says its Echo Dot Kids Edition is COPPA compliant. In a blog post published later in the day, the company said there "are multiple ways to delete a child's profile and recordings." According to Amazon, these recordings are taken so parents "are able to review and listen to their children's interactions with Alexa," and mom and dad can review and edit them at any time in the Alexa App or on Amazon's website.

The complaint against Amazon also alleges the tech giant doesn't disclose which kid skills (developed by third parties) collect and save personal information from children. Amazon says, however, that none of the Alexa skills included with its FreeTime Unlimited service have access to or collect personal information, and they "never share audio recordings with any skill developer."

According to the complaint filed against Amazon, 84.6 percent of kid skills available on the Echo Dot Kids Edition do not provide any privacy policy. Amazon responded by saying, "Most kid skills do not provide a privacy policy simply because they do not collect any personal information."

Amazon insists it has "rigorous standards" when it comes to protecting children's privacy and pointed out the company has "worked closely with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and other leading industry groups" when developing parental consent policies. But the complaint against Amazon says these policies are too easy to bypass. There's no assurance that the person giving consent is the parent of the child, and if asked to provide credit card information as verification, a kid could easily offer up the numbers from a disposable debit gift card.

Whether or not the FTC takes up this complaint, though, remains to be determined. Per the Associated Press, the organization rarely makes its investigations public. That means it's up to the consumer—aka mom and dad—to decide how much (if at all) the kids get to chat with Alexa.

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