Parents worry about children’s privacy with Amazon Echo

May 13, 2019, 7:06 AM

Alexa, echo dot...

(File, Associated Press)

(File, Associated Press)

Amazon’s Echo Dot may be doing more than just entertaining your kids. Critics claim the company could be collecting information about them.

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Josh Golin, the Executive Director with Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood, says Amazon’s device was marketed to educate and entertain kids. Still, it raised red flags for child advocates.

“One of the things Amazon markets about this device is that you can call through the speaker to get your child to come down to dinner instead of actually communicating directly, you’re using an Amazon platform to communicate with your child right when they’re in your home,” Golin said. “But it’s also designed to displace kind of essential parenting functions. So they market it as it will read a bedtime story to your kid. Well, parents should be reading a bedtime story to their kids, not a device, and not Amazon.”

Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood said it researched the Echo Dot and determined that Amazon is violating children’s privacy laws.

“Privacy polices are written in a very confusing way, that obscure what Amazon is doing, and leads parents on a wild goose chase from one privacy policy to another,” he described. “What we found is not only were they leading parents on a wild goose chase, but in 85 percent of the cases, those third-party privacy policies didn’t even exist.”

“There’s no way that a parent can meaningfully consent to data being collected from their child, when they can’t even understand what Amazon is collecting, or what they’re doing with the data,” he added.

He also claims that Amazon purposefully muddied the waters for parents, noting concern that the company doesn’t want parents to fully grasp the kind of data it’s collecting from children.

As for whether it could have simply been a mistake from Amazon?

“Amazon is one of the richest companies in the entire world,” Golin pointed out. “They certainly have the resources to hire good privacy lawyers who will tell them exactly how they should write their privacy notices to comply with the law, and that’s not what they did here.”

The hope from Golin and others is to let parents know that their conversations with their kids could very well be stored by Alexa indefinitely.

He goes on to cite the process required to fully delete recordings.

“When parents delete those recordings — and it’s not easy — you have to take a number of steps to delete the recordings that Amazon has of your child. Even if you delete those recordings, Amazon retains the underlying information that was in those recordings,” he said. “If there’s sensitive information that you don’t want Amazon to know about your child, Amazon still retains what was said, and that’s really scary to me.”

Kids can ask Alexa to read them a story, play their favorite song, and help them with their homework, all the while Amazon’s collecting data.

The worry for Golin is that it’s unclear where that data is going, and what the company is doing with it once it’s stored.

“We don’t know exactly what they’re doing with this data. But it’s certainly concerning when one of the world’s most powerful companies is compiling so much information about what children like and dislike. Not to mention private and sensitive information that children might reveal to them.”

His recommendation? Call customer service, have your device’s recordings wiped, and send it back.

“For parents who don’t already have the device, please don’t buy it,” he also recommends.

On Thursday, consumer and public health advocates and senators issued a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and sanction Amazon for infringing on children’s privacy through the Echo Dot.

KIRO Radio reached out to Amazon, which responded with the following statement:

FreeTime on Alexa and Echo Dot Kids Edition are compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Customers can find more information on Alexa and overall privacy practices here.

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Parents worry about children’s privacy with Amazon Echo