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A pair of class actions seeks statutory damages on behalf of children in nine states whose conversations were recorded by an Alexa-enabled device, like Echo and Echo Dot.

By Amanda Bronstad | June 11, 2019 at 07:51 PM

Amazon Echo Plus. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

A pair of class actions filed Tuesday allege that Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices, like Echo and Echo Dot, illegally record the conversations of children.

“Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” both complaints say.

Travis Lenkner, of Chicago’s Keller Lenkner, which filed the suits along with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, said the cases are the first of their kind. The suits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and Los Angeles Superior Court, seek damages under the privacy laws of nine states, including California, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“What all nine have in common is they are what’s known as two-party consent states,” Lenkner said. “An audio recording of a conversation or of another person requires the consent of both sides to that interaction in these states and when such consent is not obtained these state laws contain penalties, including set amounts of statutory damages per violation.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon, based in Seattle, referred requests for comment to a blog post about Amazon FreeTime, a “dedicated service that helps parents manage the ways their kids interact with technology, including limiting screen time,” and was expanded to include Alexa last year. Amazon said its FreeTime and Echo Dot Kids applications require parental consent and, in some cases, don’t collect personal information. Parents also can delete their child’s profile or recordings, the blog says.

The suits come as a coalition of 19 consumer and public health groups petitioned the Federal Trade Commission last month to investigate Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids, which they claim violates the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA—an allegation that Amazon has denied.

An 8-year-old in California and a 10-year-old in Massachusetts, identified as R.A. and C.O., filed the class actions through their guardians. Both cases said the children used Alexa devices to play music, tell jokes or answer questions, but never consented to having their discussions recorded.

Their parents also had no idea the devices were saving permanent recordings of the conversations to Amazon’s servers and sending them to a subsidiary in Sunnyvale, California, also named in the complaints, called A2Z Development Center Inc., which does business as Amazon Lab126.

“Amazon has thus built a massive database of billions of voice recordings containing the private details of millions of Americans,” the complaints say.

The complaints note that other devices, such as Apple’s Siri, record conversations temporarily and later delete them.

The lawsuits seek a court order mandating that Amazon destroy the recorded conversations of children and pay statutory damages, which range from $100 to $5,000 per violation, depending on the state.

The other states in the class are Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington.