Amazon Echo’s device for children has once again come under fire due to questions regarding how it handles the private information of minors. On Thursday, multiple senators made a call for the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation regarding the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition in order to determine whether or not it is in violation of Children’s Online Private Protection Act, or COPPA. An Amazon spokesperson assured CNN Business that the device is compliant with the act, but such an assertion is to be expected and can’t be taken at face value.
For context, COPPA is an act designed to protect the privacy of children ages twelve and younger. The act requires companies to follow certain guidelines and restrictions when it comes to gathering, storing, and using data on children that are these ages. An investigation has been ordered because Senators Edward J. Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Josh Hawley and Dick Durbin believe that the Amazon device does not comply with COPPA’s requirements in regards to both parental consent and the parent’s ability to delete information and recordings.
The Amazon device in question is a kid friendlier version of the Amazon Echo, a voice assistant that answers questions, plays music, tells jokes, and read stories. However, the aforementioned senators state that it also captures voice recordings of the children using it, as well as “vast amounts of their personal information.”
On the same day the investigation was ordered, Amazon published a blog post stating that they designed the Amazon Echo Dot Kids’ Edition in tandem with the Family Online Safety Institute, as well as “other leading industry groups, and followed industry best practices for securing verifiable parental consent.” The post went on to explain that Amazon requires verifiable parental consent in order for the device to be operated by a child, and that there are many ways for parents to delete their child’s recordings and profiles.
While these assertions sound reassuring, they don’t hide the fact that a group of nineteen different consumer and public health advocates also called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the device. This isn’t even the first time the Amazon Echo Dot Kids’ edition has been questioned on this matter. In May of 2018, Senator Markey and at the time Congressman Joe Barton both sent letters to Amazon’s CEO, asking questions about the product. Chief among these questions was whether or not Amazon kept a profile of the each child that uses the device, and how long that profile would be kept.
While it is unlikely that Amazon is up to anything nefarious with this kind of data, concerns over what they are doing with that data is still warranted. It’s most likely that they would just be using it in order to make better sales decisions, but the ethical questions regarding child privacy still needs to be taken into consideration. We’ll only know the answer to the investigation once it is completed in the future.
Sources: CNN Business, The Verge