Amazon Petitions Court To Throw Out Alexa Privacy Case -- Again

Amazon is urging a federal judge to reject Alexa users' bid to pursue claims that the company wrongly targets ads based on people's interactions with voice-controlled devices.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein in the Western District of Washington previously dismissed the complaint, ruling that even if the allegations were proven true, they wouldn't show that Amazon misrepresented its policies regarding Alexa's voice data. That dismissal was without prejudice, meaning that the consumers who sued -- Ohio resident James Gray and Massachusetts resident Scott Horton -- could reformulate their allegations and bring them again.

Earlier this month, the duo filed a proposed amended complaint with Rothstein.

Amazon responded Friday by arguing that the new complaint should also be rejected -- this time with prejudice.

The attempt to bring an amended complaint “is a futile exercise and cannot save plaintiffs’ claims because, as the court already held, Amazon disclosed, and plaintiffs consented to, the very conduct they challenge,” Amazon writes.

The company adds that since at least 2016, it disclosed that data such as interactions with Alexa might be used for ad targeting.

The original complaint came soon after researchers from the University of Washington, University of California-Davis, University of California-Irvine, and Northeastern University posted the paper “Your Echoes are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem,” which concluded that Amazon “processes voice data to infer user interests.”

That report doesn't allege that Amazon secretly listened to conversations, or directly shared voice recordings with third parties.

After the paper was posted, Amazon said it “is not in the business of selling data,” and doesn't share Alexa requests with ad networks.

“Similar to what you'd experience if you made a purchase on or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or to play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song play may inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads,” the company stated in response to the paper.

Gray and Horton alleged in their original complaint that Amazon violates users' privacy, and that it engages in misleading and unfair conduct, among other claims.

Amazon argued that the allegations in the original complaint -- even if proven true -- would show only that the company targets ads based on transactions people make via Alexa, as opposed to recordings of users' conversations.

Rothstein said in her January dismissal order that Alexa's terms of service incorporate Amazon's privacy policy, which discloses that Amazon uses personal information for interest-based ads.

“The applicable policies do not conceal Amazon’s use of Alexa-captured voice data for advertising,” she wrote at the time.

Among other claims, the new version of the complaint alleges that Amazon's official terms of use are inconsistent with its public statements about Alexa, and references an updated version of “Your Echoes Are Heard” -- which now says that around 63% of survey respondents “do not think that Amazon will use their voice recordings or the information derived from their voice recordings, to target ads.”

Amazon countered Friday that the new allegations about survey respondents' beliefs don't provide Gray and Horton with grounds to proceed in court.

“Plaintiffs still have not alleged that they saw, were deceived by, and relied on that alleged statement (or any other Amazon statement for that matter),” the company writes. “Hearsay allegations that some group of absent consumers might have been deceived cannot ... support plaintiffs’ own claims of harm.”

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