Amazon Ordered to Pay $30 Million Fine for Violating Children’s Privacy

Sharomka /
Sharomka /

Amazon has been caught illegally retaining data from children. In a settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the company has agreed to pay a $30 million fine. Amazon currently has a net worth of $1.27 trillion, so the fine is really chump change compared to the illegal harvesting of children’s data that the company engaged in. There’s really no disincentive for Amazon to stop harvesting children’s data with such a toothless fine.

Amazon was collecting, storing, and retaining data on children under 13, which is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 2000. The company was doing this illegal data harvesting with its Ring doorbell cameras and with its creepy voice assistant Alexa gadgets in people’s homes. The FTC charged Amazon with retaining voice recordings of children and even their geolocation information, despite parental requests to delete the data.

Amazon was reportedly keeping the data in order to improve its artificial intelligence algorithms. Most people appreciate the convenience and novelty of these gadgets but have no idea just how invasive and creepy they really are. If you own an Alexa device and keep it anywhere in your home, Amazon records and keeps everything.

And we do mean everything. Many people are shocked to learn that they can log in to their Amazon Prime account and find months or years’ worth of audio recordings of their most intimate moments on Amazon’s servers. If you have a nasty argument with your spouse, Amazon has a recording of it. If your kids engage in imaginative play, Amazon has a recording of it. If you have an intimate date night and things get noisy, Amazon has a recording of it. The amount of data that these Alexa devices record in the home is truly creepy, and Amazon keeps all of it.

The problem, in this case, is that Amazon was keeping recordings of children, and their geolocation data, in blatant disregard of the COPPA law. It was signed into law by Bill Clinton back in 2000 and was intended to protect the privacy of children on the Internet. A lot of websites, and especially social media companies, don’t allow kids 13 and under to sign up for an account because of the difficulty of staying in compliance with COPPA.

Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, notes, “Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits. COPPA does not allow companies to keep children’s data forever for any reason, and certainly not to train their algorithms.”

Amazon is being dinged $25 million for a civil fine over the illegal storage of the Alexa recordings. A separate $5.8 million fine was levied against the company because its employees were watching videos recorded by parents’ Ring doorbell cameras without permission. The FTC even says that hacking and harassment incidents have happened because Amazon did not protect the data from its employees. Crazy ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends can apparently do a lot of damage to someone when they have full access to their data.

The problem with this issue is that Amazon is the only company that has been caught doing this. Tech companies have proven to be so averse to privacy rights through the years that it would be foolish to think that other companies are not doing the same things as Amazon. The “smart gadgets” in everyone’s homes are always on and always listening. They just haven’t been caught as red-handed as Amazon has.