UNITED STATES: In a significant development, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a $5.8 million settlement with Amazon’s Ring doorbell camera unit after a former employee spied on female customers in 2017 using cameras placed in bedrooms and bathrooms.
The settlement also includes a separate $25 million payment by Amazon to resolve allegations of violating children’s privacy rights related to Alexa recordings.
These settlements mark the FTC’s ongoing efforts to hold Big Tech accountable for prioritising data collection profits over privacy concerns.
Under the settlement, Amazon has agreed to change its practises. While the company denies any law violations, it stated that these settlements allow them to move forward.
The FTC’s investigation uncovered that Ring had provided its employees with unrestricted access to customers’ sensitive video data, enabling them to view, download, and transfer the content without detection.
The complaint highlights an incident in 2017 where an employee accessed videos of at least 81 female customers and Ring employees. This misconduct continued for months until it was reported by a colleague, resulting in termination.
Other instances involved employees sharing customer recordings without consent and watching videos without the permission and knowledge of the individuals involved.
As part of the settlement, Ring must disclose to customers the extent of access the company and its contractors have to their data.
Additionally, since February 2019, Ring has implemented policies that ensure most employees or contractors can only access a customer’s private video with explicit consent.
FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya underscored that these settlements send a solid message to tech companies that the need for data collection does not justify illegal actions.
However, it’s worth noting that the fines imposed on Amazon, totaling $30.8 million, represent only a fraction of the company’s first-quarter profit of $3.2 billion.
The FTC’s complaint against Amazon alleges violations of rules protecting children’s privacy and deceptive practises related to Alexa usage.
Amazon is accused of misleading users by promising to delete voice transcripts and location information upon request, which it failed to do.
The FTC argues that Amazon unlawfully retained these voice recordings, using them to enhance the Alexa algorithm’s understanding of children, ultimately benefiting its bottom line at the expense of children’s privacy.