Amazon's Smart Speakers Collecting Kids' Data May Lead to Government Lawsuit

Amazon's smart speakers may've landed the tech giant in hot water.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
David Lumb
2 min read

An Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker tailored for children.

James Martin/CNET

A Federal Trade Commission complaint could lead the US government to sue Amazon over children's data the retail giant collected through its line of smart speakers, according to a report.

At issue is whether Amazon's series of Alexa-powered smart speakers were collecting data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent and retaining it even after users attempted to delete it, which children's advocacy organizations asked the FTC look into back in 2019, according to a Friday report by Bloomberg.

Now the FTC is recommending issuing a complaint that Amazon didn't confirm parental consent before collecting data and that most of the Alexa activities designed for kids didn't have a privacy policy, sources told Bloomberg. The Justice Department could take the next step and file a lawsuit against Amazon next month.

The Amazon suit comes amid an FTC crackdown on data collection over the last few years under Chair Lina Khan, including fining the company formerly known as Weight Watchers for improperly storing kids' info. The commission also ordered Fortnite creator Epic Games to pay $520 million in fines and refunds for tricking kids into making in-game purchases and violating their privacy. 

Increasing scrutiny around the tech industry has raised awareness of how much data is collected and stored by household devices. Concerned owners can tweak their settings to increase privacy around their Amazon Echo speakers and other devices from Apple and Google.

Should the lawsuit find Amazon at fault, it's unclear how much the company could be forced to pay in penalties. Though Amazon reportedly said it was in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, if it's found to have violated those rules dictating how children's data should be protected, the company could pay $50,000 per child affected, according to Politico. 

Amazon declined to comment. The FTC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.