Amazon has been hit with a $30 million fine due to multiple privacy violations, including allowing Ring employees to spy on customers, creating a vulnerable security environment for hackers, and unlawfully retaining recordings of children’s voices captured by Alexa. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Amazon’s home security camera company, Ring, with breaching customer privacy by granting unauthorized access to private videos. Additionally, Amazon was accused of neglecting basic privacy and security measures, thereby exposing consumers’ accounts, cameras, and videos to hackers.

An Amazon spokesperson defended the company, stating that Ring had already addressed the issues raised by the FTC independently prior to the inquiry. They emphasized Amazon’s commitment to delivering products customers love while ensuring their privacy and security. However, one former Ring employee had reportedly spied on 81 female customers, viewing private areas such as bedrooms and bathrooms. The FTC criticized Amazon for its lack of employee policies regarding video access, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violation.

Furthermore, the FTC revealed that third-party contractors were able to access and use customers’ sensitive video data without proper authorization. The agency highlighted Amazon’s failure to notify customers that their private videos were being used for employee training purposes, without obtaining their consent. The lax security measures implemented by Ring also allowed hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to customer accounts, stored videos, and live streams. In some instances, hackers harassed and threatened customers, including children and the elderly, using Ring’s two-way camera functionality.

Amazon privacy violations

In the second set of charges, Amazon faced allegations of violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC and the US Department of Justice accused Amazon of retaining children’s voice recordings collected by the Alexa smart speaker and voice assistant service, even after parents requested their deletion. The complaint highlighted the risks posed by Amazon’s data retention practices, as well as the company’s deceptive claims about protecting user privacy and enabling data deletion. Amazon’s use of children’s recordings to train its voice assistant and improve speech recognition was deemed a violation of COPPA.

As a result of these violations, Amazon agreed to pay a total of $30.8 million in fines to the US government. The Ring settlement includes a $5.8 million fine and requires the deletion of all customer videos collected before 2018. The ring must also inform customers about the FTC actions and any future privacy incidents. In the case of Alexa, Amazon will pay a $25 million fine, and delete inactive child accounts, specific voice recordings, and geolocation data. Amazon is prohibited from using such data for training its algorithms. Despite the fines, the amount is relatively small compared to Amazon’s massive profits, and the company has denied any wrongdoing while affirming its dedication to customer responsibilities and families’ privacy.

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