Is Alexa always listening? Some folks worry that the kids’ version of Amazon’s Alexa won’t forget what children tell it—even after parents try to delete the conversations. Now privacy advocates and members of Congress want the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Echo Dot Kids Edition violates the law.
Several groups are alleging that Amazon is violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, by holding onto a child’s personal information longer than necessary. “These are children talking in their own homes about anything and everything,” says Josh Golin, who directs the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. “Why is Amazon keeping these voice recordings?”
Amazon says that its Echo Dot Kids Edition is COPPA compliant.
Researchers were able to delete data from regular versions of Echo Dot and Alexa. But when Consumer Reports tested the Echo Dot Kids, the device remembered deleted information, including a birth date and the color of a dog.
In one video example, a child asks the Dot to remember some personal information, including a walnut allergy. An adult later tries to delete that information. But when the child asks what Alexa remembers, the Dot recalls that she’s allergic to walnuts. “This suggests that Amazon has designed the Echo Dot Kids Edition so that it can never forget what the child has said,” a complaint against Amazon says.
In the past year, the FTC has been enforcing children’s privacy rules more seriously, says Allison Fitzpatrick, a lawyer who helps companies comply with COPPA requirements. For the FTC to take notice, however, Fitzpatrick says there usually needs to be evidence of “real, actual harm”—not just potential for harm.
The FTC does allow a business to collect a child’s voice recording without parental consent—but only for a temporary and specific purpose, such as to perform an online search or fulfill a verbal command. The kids’ Dot goes much further. A judge will decide whether that's too far.
Should Amazon keep recordings?
(A child holds an Amazon Echo Dot. AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)