Home Technology Amazon pays hefty fines for tracking users

Amazon pays hefty fines for tracking users

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Amazon pays hefty fines for tracking users

Amazon’s smart devices have proved a tempting means of surveillance
(photo: CC0 Public Domain)

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has offered the giant of online commerce and cloud services Amazon a settlement in a lawsuit over violations of the rights of users of the personal assistant Alexa and the smart security system Ring. Ring developers have been spying on their customers for months.

Amazon is expected to pay about $30 million in fines to settle the lawsuit filed by the FCC, Bleeping Computer reported. Government officials believe that the Ring home security system (with a video camera) and the Alexa virtual assistant, which first appeared in the Amazon Echo smart speakers, are violating citizens’ privacy to the point of being used for illegal surveillance.

Ring is manufactured by an Amazon subsidiary of the same name. The Federal Communications Commission ordered the manufacturer to pay $5.8 million in compensation to the owners of the system and, more importantly, banned any attempt to profit from illegally obtained videos.

According to the lawsuit, Ring provides access to videos from private users to all of its employees and outside contractors, regardless of whether it is related to their job duties.

It turned out that an Amazon employee watched thousands of videos over several months that showed Ring users in their bathrooms and bedrooms, until another company employee discovered this hobby of a colleague and informed the company’s security service.

In addition, Ring has neglected even the most basic cybersecurity measures. Hackers can easily break into Ring user accounts and gain access to both video archives and live cameras.

Prior to 2019, Ring accounts did not have multi-factor authentication, although the company was aware of multiple attacks in 2017 and 2018. And the subsequent implementation of multi-factor authentication was very poorly executed.

In a separate case, the Federal Communications Commission is suing Amazon for violating the Minors Information Security Act. Despite parents’ requests, Alexa recordings of children’s voices and their geolocation data were stored on Amazon’s servers. Transcripts of voice recordings are also saved.

While parents have the right to request that this information be deleted, Amazon has been slow to honor those requests. The recordings were apparently used to train AI algorithms.

The FCC offered Amazon to pay $25 million in an out-of-court settlement. The commission also barred Amazon from using recordings of children’s voices to train its algorithms and required the removal of inactive children’s accounts and all data associated with them.

In response, Amazon issued a statement denying the allegations and admitting no wrongdoing. At the same time, the company points out that “the settlement agreements put all of this behind us.”

Amazon claims that Alexa has strong privacy protections and built-in user controls, and that the Amazon Kids program was approved by the FCC before Alexa was included in it.

“As part of the settlement, we have agreed to make minor changes to our already strong data protection practices and to remove profiles of children who have not been active in the past 18 months, unless a parent or guardian decides they should be reserved,” says the company.

As for Ring, Amazon assures that any errors were quickly fixed before the FCC began its investigation. But the information about the violations is serious enough and will likely affect Amazon’s reputation.

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