FTC Urged To Investigate Amazon's Echo Dot Kids Edition Over Privacy

Watchdogs are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon's Echo Dot Kids Edition, arguing that the smart speaker, marketed as family-friendly, may violate children's privacy laws.

“Because the Echo Dot Kids Edition is used in homes -- often in a child’s bedroom -- it can collect vast amounts of personal information directly from children,” the Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood say in a complaint filed with the FTC. “This gives Amazon access to sensitive information and provides Amazon with commercially valuable insights into children, including how they learn, how they play, and how they acquire new information.”

Amazon's Echo Dot Kids, a voice-activated device that launched last year, includes controls that allow parents to pick services for their children, block explicit material and set time limits.

The advocacy groups allege in their FTC complaint that the device runs afoul of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits companies from knowingly collecting personal information from children younger than 13 without verifiable parental consent. The Echo Dot Kids Edition violates that law in several ways, according to the advocates. Among others, the device collects a host of personal information from children -- including names, phone numbers, email addresses and other data -- but fails to adequately inform parents about the data collection, or obtain verifiable consent, the watchdogs allege in a 96-page complaint.

While Amazon gives parents some information about the type of data collected by the Echo Dot for kids, the company fails to offer key details, according to the advocates. For instance, a screen with the privacy disclosure does not “describe the information it actually collects from children,” the groups allege.

The privacy statement also “does not adequately disclose whether the Echo Dot Kids Edition enables a child to make personal information publicly available,” the complaint alleges.

The advocates also say the device violates a COPPA provision that requires companies to allow parents to review and delete children's data. The watchdogs said they tested the device by having a child tell it to “remember” her name, phone number and other data. After she provided the information, she told the device to “forget” her data.

“After much experimentation, the only way we found to delete all of a child’s information was by contacting customer service,” the watchdogs wrote.

“When we contacted customer service ... the agent explained that deleting the child’s profile from the Amazon account would delete all voice recordings and transcriptions relating to the child’s profile,” the complaint says. “Unfortunately, however, deleting the child’s profile will disable the features that make the Echo Dot Kids Edition useful and appropriate for children.”

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