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Lawsuits Say Alexa is Snooping on Kids

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 24, 2019 6:00 AM

Alexa, the voice of Amazon's Echo products, is in trouble again.

Three years ago, it was the authorities who wanted her as a witness in a murder case. Now lawyers say she is listening to kids and recording them without permission.

It all sounds bad, except everybody knows Alexa is listening to our conversations 24/7. So who's to blame if parents let her babysit their kids?

"Alexa, What's Your Defense?"

In lawsuits filed in Washington and California, attorneys say parents never consented to have Alexa record their kids. Besides, they say, minors are too young to consent.

The federal Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) is the usual stuff of such lawsuits, but the plaintiffs say Alexa is also violating state laws. They claim Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington require dual-party consent for recordings.

Amazon says it has "strict measures and protocols" to protect children's security and privacy. "Customers set up their Echo devices and we give them easy-to-use tools to manage them, including the ability to review and delete the voice recordings associated with their account," the company said.

Alexa, Children's Edition

Coincidentally -- or not -- Amazon is releasing this month an updated version of the Echo Dot Kids device. It touts "multiple layers of protection and privacy controls," including parental controls. Alexa also screens content for children, filtering out explicit materials.

For a smart device, Alexa should have seen the lawsuits coming. The Federal Communications Commissions is looking at the privacy issue. Others have known about it for some time.

Take three years ago, when police tried to get Alexa's recordings in a murder case. They wanted to know what she heard at James Bates' house.

His friend Victor Collins couldn't say because he was found dead there, strangled in a hot tub. That, of course, was no story for kids.

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