Amazon Caught Spying, FTC Issues Massive Fine

Gabriel Gurzo /
Gabriel Gurzo /

We’ve long suspected that Amazon has been spying on us. From their Alexa home products to their acquisition of Ring doorbells, they can collect audio and video.

And now, two cases have come to light that has led the FTC to issue a $30 million settlement.

That sounds like a lot of money, but for Amazon, it’s just a drop in the bucket.

Case number one involved Alexa retaining the recordings of children indefinitely unless a parent called to have the data scrubbed. And even then, they still kept those transcripts. It’s considerably deceptive considering that people placed Alexa into their homes with the belief that the devices weren’t capable of such actions.

The FTC is demanding that Amazon remove inactive children’s accounts and delete voice and geolocation data to comply with online privacy laws. Amazon was fined $25 million for failing to comply and justifying voice data collection from children. Child safety and privacy must be prioritized online.

Case number two involved Ring, which Amazon acquired in 2018. The company’s lax policies allowed both employees and contractors unrestricted access to customers’ private videos. Furthermore, the devices were vulnerable to frequent and effortless hacking attempts.

This ruling resulted in $5.8 million being ordered to be used to issue customer refunds. Unfortunately, most of the money has already been paid — or claimants are ineligible to get paid for the violations. This means that the FTC still has work to do to ensure that customers get the justice they deserve.

Amazon doesn’t really care. They’ll pay the money and continue doing what they do. They haven’t issued an apology – only excuses.  “Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy and to provide customers with control over their experience.”

Is that really true, though?

The reality is that Amazon said one thing and did another. They said they would use the geolocation and voice data for creating and improving data-based products and services. Yet, they have not.

They’ll need to establish a privacy program to use such data in the future.

Meanwhile, the misuse of data has plagued households for years as a result of what Amazon does. Alexa recognizes the wrong phrases, Ring doorbells make it easy for people to spy on their neighbors, and appliances get interfered with.

The ruling from the FTC is long overdue. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to cause Amazon to change. And if they really wanted to apologize, there’d be more than $30 million in fines — and it would be payable to everyone with an Alexa in their home.