Amazon Defeats Alexa Privacy Claims

Handing Amazon a victory, a federal judge on Tuesday threw out a privacy lawsuit over allegations that the company targets ads to consumers based on their interactions with voice-controlled devices.

The ruling comes in a dispute dating to last year, when Ohio resident James Gray and Massachusetts resident Scott Horton alleged in a class-action complaint that Amazon uses “Alexa-collected voice data” for ad targeting. They raised several claims, including that Amazon violates users' privacy, and that it engages in misleading and unfair conduct.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein in the Western District of Washington dismissed Gray's and Horton's original complaint in January, ruling that even if the allegations were proven true, they would not show that Amazon misrepresented its policies regarding Alexa's voice data.

Rothstein said in the ruling that Alexa's terms of service incorporate Amazon's privacy policy, which discloses that the company uses personal information for ad targeting.

Her January dismissal order was without prejudice, meaning that Gray and Horton could reformulate their allegations and bring them again. In March, the duo filed a proposed amended complaint with Rothstein.

Amazon urged Rothstein to reject that complaint as futile, given Rothstein's earlier decision.

Rothstein agreed with the company and threw out the lawsuit with prejudice. “Plaintiffs merely repeat the same arguments the court has already rejected,” she wrote in Tuesday's dismissal order. 

Gray and Horton sued Amazon 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 does not 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.

Amazon also said in court papers that since at least 2016, it has disclosed that data like interactions with Alexa might be used for ad targeting.

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