Alexa Users Seek To Reinstate Privacy Claims Over Ad Targeting

Alexa users want a federal appellate court to reinstate a privacy lawsuit claiming that Amazon targets ads to people based on their interactions with voice-controlled devices.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein in the Western District of Washington dismissed the lawsuit last month, ruling that even if the allegations in the complaint were proven true, they wouldn't show that Amazon misrepresented its policies regarding Alexa's voice data.

Last week, attorneys for the consumers who sued -- Ohio resident James Gray and Massachusetts resident Scott Horton -- initiated an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lawyers for Gray and Horton haven't yet made substantive arguments to the appellate court.

The dispute dates to last year, when the consumers alleged in a class-action complaint Amazon uses “Alexa-collected voice data” for ad targeting. Gray and Horton raised several claims, including that Amazon violates users' privacy, and that it engages in misleading and unfair conduct.

The suit came soon after researchers 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 paper doesn't claim 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.

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

She said at the time that Gray and Horton could revise their allegations and bring them again. In March, the duo filed a proposed amended complaint with Rothstein.

Last month, she threw out the case with prejudice, ruling that Gray and Horton's new complaint repeated the same theories she previously rejected.

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