So charge a pair of lawsuits filed against Amazon AMZN, -0.23% this week, as first reported by the Seattle Times, which allege that the devices are breaking the law in at least eight states by recording children who use the smart speakers without consent.
“Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” states one complaint filed on behalf of a 10-year-old Massachusetts girl in Seattle federal court on Tuesday. And another, almost identical suit was filed the same day on behalf of an 8-year-old boy in California Superior Court.
The federal complaint, which seeks class action status, notes that Alexa devices record and transmit anything someone says after the “wake word” activates the speaker — usually “Alexa,” although it can also be “Echo” or “Amazon”. Company practice then includes saving “a permanent recording of the user’s voice,” regardless of the speaker and whether that person was the one who purchased the device and/or installed the Alexa app or not.
While the system is able to identify individual speakers by their voices, Amazon could inform users who had not already consented that they were in fact being recorded, and then ask them for permission, the suits claim. Permanent recording for users who had not consented, such as underage children, could then be deactivated, but the suit alleges Amazon has opted out of this practice.
“Alexa does not do this,” the complaint says. “At no point does Amazon warn unregistered users that it is creating persistent voice recordings of their Alexa interactions, let alone obtain their consent to do so.”
The lawsuit also claims this breaks the law in Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington — all states which call for all parties to consent to a recording, no matter how old they are. The cases are seeking damages for the two plaintiffs involved, as well as other customers who are invited to join the class-action lawsuits in those eight states and California.
The California suit adds that apart from general privacy concerns, “it takes no great leap of imagination to be concerned that Amazon is developing voiceprints for millions of children that could allow the company (and potentially governments) to track a child’s use of Alexa-enabled devices in multiple locations and match those uses with a vast level of detail about the child’s life, ranging from private questions they have asked Alexa to the products they have used in their home.”