Amazon is urging a federal judge to throw out a privacy lawsuit centered on Alexa's alleged collection of children's voices.
“The Alexa service works -- and performs the helpful, valuable, and entertaining functions that plaintiffs’ access and enjoy every day -- because a recording is created that converts voice into digital instructions,” Amazon argues in papers filed Thursday with U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones in Seattle. “Plaintiffs cannot be permitted to invite the creation of a recording by using a wake word to invoke the Alexa service, and then sue when a recording is created.”
The company adds that the “basic functional requirements” of voice-directed services, and “simple common sense,” require dismissal of the case.
Amazon's papers come in response to a class-action complaint brought last year by a group of parents who allege that Alexa, a natural-language processing service, violates their children's privacy.
The parents filed suit soon after it came to light that Amazon employees and contractors sometimes listen to audio clips captured by Alexa, in order to improve the service's ability to interpret and respond to speech.
“When children say a wake word to an Alexa Device, the device records and transmits the children’s communications in the same manner that it handles adults’ communications. Neither the children nor their parents have consented to the children’s interactions being permanently recorded,” the papers said in an amended complaint filed last month. “Worse, those recordings are then stored persistently, which enables Amazon to disclose the recordings to thousands of contractors worldwide.”
The complaint alleges that Amazon violates wiretap laws in nine states -- California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Amazon counters in its new papers that the claims should be dismissed, arguing that the allegations don't amount to violations of the states' wiretap laws.
“While the state statutes vary in their specifics and language ... their consistent interpretation recognizes that mere creation of recordings within a communications service, as intended to provide instructions over the internet, cannot state a claim for illicit interception, eavesdropping, or recording,” Amazon writes. “Were it otherwise, all voice-activated technology by definition would constitute wiretapping.”
Amazon previously contended that the case belonged in arbitration because its terms of service required that the parents agreed to arbitrate all claims before using Alexa, or allowing their children to use the service. A federal judge rejected Amazon's argument on that point last year.
Amazon and the parents are expected to face off at a hearing in Seattle on January 31.