Amazon Wants Privacy Battle Over Voiceprints Sent To Arbitration

A privacy lawsuit centered on Amazon's alleged collections of children's voiceprints belongs in arbitration, the company is telling a federal judge.

The lawsuit was brought earlier this year by a group of parents who allege that Amazon's Alexa violates their children's privacy. Amazon counters in new court papers that the parents agreed to arbitrate all claims before using Alexa, a natural-language processing service, or allowing their children to use the service.

“The plaintiffs’ parents in this suit, who signed up for and then permitted their children to use Amazon’s Alexa service on devices in their homes cannot avoid arbitrating their claims by suing in the names of those children,” Amazon argues in a motion filed Thursday with U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones in Seattle.

The dispute dates to June, when Amazon was hit with a class-action complaint alleging that Alexa captures and stores children's voiceprints without permission from either the children or their parents.

“It takes no great leap of imagination to be concerned that Amazon is developing voiceprints for millions of children that could allow the company (and potentially governments) to track a child’s use of Alexa-enabled devices in multiple locations and match those uses with a vast level of detail about the child’s life, ranging from private questions they have asked Alexa to the products they have used in their home,” the parents allege.

They contend that Alexa's voiceprint collection violates privacy laws in eight states -- Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Amazon says in its court papers that the parents were required to accept an arbitration agreement before they activated Alexa. Those agreements also apply to the children, even though they didn't sign them, Amazon contends.

The company's argument hinges on the idea that the children were only able to access Alexa because their parents agreed to the company's terms, including the arbitration mandate. “It would eviscerate the core function of the arbitration agreements (and offend basic notions of fairness) to permit those same parents to avoid them by bringing suits through the children who are their charges and whom they enabled to use the Alexa devices,” Amazon argues.

The original lawsuit came several weeks after watchdogs Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission that Amazon's Echo Dot Kids Edition fails to comply with the federal children's privacy law. Those groups alleged that the device violates the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting personal information from children -- including names, phone numbers, email addresses and other data -- without adequately inform parents about the data collection, or obtaining their consent.

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