This week, child privacy and protection advocates announced Amazon Alexa devices using the FreeTime feature appear to be violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). They argue the device retains information children are giving the app for longer than “reasonably necessary.” They believe that children’s Alexa recordings are being saved and have brought the complaint before the Federal Trade Commission for an investigation.
The FreeTime feature was released last year to make the Alexa app more kid-friendly. Its design prohibits the device from playing songs with explicit lyrics and answering questions such as, “Where do babies come from?” The feature can be activated on any devices where Alexa is installed.
Not a New Concern
According to Wired, Congress and children’s advocacy groups raised similar privacy concerns back in 2018. This was when details of the Echo Kids Dot device and the FreeTime feature were first released, and parents were assured they were covered. Now they’re learning there’s a loophole.
In a statement on Amazon’s website, the company says FreeTime adheres to all COPPA guidelines; however, third-party apps or skills your child accesses are subject to that app’s terms and policies. Meaning, while Amazon guarantees the Alexa-based apps are following COPPA rules, they can’t promise apps outside of their design can say the same.
The request for an investigation into privacy violations on Thursday came on the heels of other privacy concerns recently raised about the Alexa app, including those raised in a report from Bloomberg News. The report revealed Alexa had been sending recordings of private conversations and requests back to a team of Amazon employees, who were listening to and transcribing the conversations.
As Amazon and other artificial intelligence programs like Siri and Google Assistant continue to become major parts of our daily lives, more questions will be raised about privacy concerns. For now, experts say to use common sense around devices like these. Leaving us with this message: no parental controls or privacy settings can guarantee your family’s private conversations will remain private.