Senators Call for FTC to Investigate Amazon’s Echo Dot for Kids

A child holds his Amazon Echo Dot.

A child holds his Amazon Echo Dot. Mike Stewart/AP

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Lawmakers want to know how the devices are using and storing children’s personal information.

Lawmakers want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a made-for-kids Amazon device for potentially violating online privacy protections around capturing children’s sensitive information.

In a letter penned to the FTC Thursday, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dick Durbin D-Ill. and Josh Hawley R-Mo., present “new evidence” that Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids Edition breaches the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The smart speaker connects to the internet and is meant for children 13 and under.

“Children are a uniquely vulnerable population,” the letter said. “The Echo Dot Kids Edition captures not only the voice recordings of the children who speak to it, but also vast amounts of their personal information.”

Privacy groups also pushed the FTC to initiate an investigation into the tech-giant’s device Thursday via a lengthy document outlining potential violations. They said processing children’s voice recordings is part of the Echo’s basic functionality and that Amazon collects at least four types of personal information from the kid-facing device: voice recordings, persistent identifiers associated with child users, other information about kids associated with those persistent identifiers, and personal information offered by children for the device to “remember.”

Senators cited the group’s complaints in their letter.

The lawmakers said while COPPA requires device operators to give parents access to their kids’ personal information, enabling them to review and delete it, the privacy groups’ review of the Echo Dot for Kids revealed “when parents have asked Amazon to delete recordings of their children, Amazon has kept information gleaned from those recordings.”

They provide an example in which the device recorded a child speaking about her health information and address. When her parent followed the company’s process to delete what was recorded, the device nonetheless appeared to retain the information.

“Researchers attempted to completely erase the child’s information from the device, but could not identify a method for doing so that would not preclude the child from using the device in a meaningful way,” Senators said.

They also listed other grievances including that COPPA requires online entities like Amazon to provide direct notice to parents, obtain verifiable consent and provide details around what information is collected ahead of obtaining it, yet the company does not provide details on the data it actually collects.

Senators also said Amazon can’t ensure that those consenting to kids using the devices are actually their parents, as the law requires.

They added that the parental notice that accompanies the Echo Dot Kids Edition does not disclose how the company uses the data it collects or what it offers up to third parties.

“Researchers were unable to identify the data Amazon shares with ‘skills’—Amazon’s word for ‘apps’ available through the Echo Dot Kids Edition—of which nearly 85% listed in the Amazon Alexa store do not even have a privacy policy,” the letter said.

An Amazon spokesperson told Nextgov that FreeTime on Alexa and Echo Dot Kids Edition "are compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act" and said users can learn more about Alexa and privacy practices at its privacy website. On Thursday, Amazon published a blog post addressing the claims and offering additional information on how the device captures data.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include an Amazon statement.