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Privacy Experts, Senators Demand Investigation of Amazon’s Child Data Collection Practices

Published: May 13, 2019
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Source: The Intercept

Last year, a coalition of privacy advocates and child psychologists warned against putting an Amazon Alexa speaker anywhere near your child on the fairly reasonable grounds that developing minds shouldn’t befriend always-on surveillance devices, no matter how cute the packaging. Now, a group of privacy researchers, attorneys, and U.S. senators are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon’s alleged violations of COPPA, a law protecting the littlest users of all.

COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, regulates how companies can collect and use data on users who might have trouble spelling “privacy,” let alone understand it enough to consent to relinquishing it. COPPA is the reason why so many sites, like Facebook, simply don’t allow children under 13 to sign up. Amazon, on the other hand, decided to court children for its data collection business, releasing the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, an always-listening “smart speaker” that retains all of the functions of its adult counterpart, but tucks them inside a candy-colored shell. The kiddo speaker also adds child-specific features, like the ability to have Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa read your child a story in her disembodied robo-voice, or play child-geared content from sources like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

A new complaint drafted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the consumer privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, and Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation says that Amazon is committing a litany of COPPA violations through the Echo Dot Kids Edition, and calls on the FTC to investigate.

Amazon’s COPPA violations, according to the complaint, include failure to provide parental notice and obtain parental consent for online services related to the kids’ Echo Dot, failure to tell parents that they have a right to review personal information submitted by their child, and failure to provide parents a way to delete such information or opt out of its collection.

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