Amazon's Alexa 'doesn't forget conversations with children'

After Amazon introduced its first kid-oriented voice assistant, along with brightly coloured models of its Echo Dot speaker, it was met with some skepticism from privacy advocates.

Now those advocates say the kids’ version of Amazon’s Alexa won’t forget what children tell it, even after parents try to delete the conversations.

For that and other alleged privacy flaws they found while testing the service, they’re now asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether it violates children’s privacy laws.

“These are children talking in their own homes about anything and everything,” said Josh Golin, who directs the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

“Why is Amazon keeping these voice recordings?”

A coalition of groups led by Mr Golin’s organisation and Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation is filing a formal complaint with the FTC, alleging that Amazon is violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by holding onto a child’s personal information longer than is reasonably necessary.

Parents are unable to delete conversations had with Alexa, privacy advocates have said. Source: Getty

Amazon said in a statement that its Echo Dot Kids Edition is compliant with the Act.

Consumer Reports said that its own tests also found that the Echo Dot Kids remembered information that was deleted, including a birth date and the colour of a dog.

The nonprofit organisation said its researchers were able to delete data from regular versions of Echo Dot and Alexa.

In one example the advocates captured on video, a child asks the device to remember some personal information, including her walnut allergy.

An adult later tries to delete all that information, which includes the voice recordings and written transcripts associated with them.

But when the child asks what Alexa remembers, it still recalls that she’s allergic to walnuts.

“This suggests that Amazon has designed the Echo Dot Kids Edition so that it can never forget what the child has said to it,” the complaint says.

There is also concern about the privacy settings in the games and quizzes available on the Echo. Source: Getty

It also says that about 85 per cent of the more than 2000 games, quizzes and other Alexa “skills” aimed at kids did not have privacy policies posted.

Such skills are generally produced by independent software developers or other third parties, not Amazon.

It’s unclear whether the FTC will take up the complaint, as its investigations are rarely public.

But the agency has been enforcing children’s privacy rules more seriously in the past year, said Allison Fitzpatrick, a lawyer who helps companies comply with the Act requirements and was not involved in the complaint.

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