Amazon Ring used by employee to spy on female customers, filing says
An FTC filing says a former Amazon Ring employee used the company's cameras to spy on female patrons, resulting in a massive settlement.
A former Amazon employee, namely in the Ring doorbell camera unit, spent months spying on female customers in 2017 using bedroom and bathroom cameras, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filing said Wednesday.
The FTC announced a $5.8 million settlement with the company over violations of privacy. In another settlement, Amazon agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations in a federal court in Seattle that it violated the privacy rights of children after failing to delete recordings from its personal assistant service Alexa, keeping them longer than necessary.
Furthermore, the FTC is also intensifying its examination of Amazon's business practices, including its $1.7 billion purchase of iRobot Corp in August 2022, as part of Amazon's endeavor into the smart home device market. The FTC is conducting a separate antitrust probe into the company.
Amazon acquired Ring in April 2018 before vowing to implement certain changes in its operations. In response to the FTC's claims against both Alexa and Ring, Amazon released a statement stating, "While we disagree with the FTC's claims regarding both Alexa and Ring, and deny violating the law, these settlements put these matters behind us."
Ring, according to the FTC, gave employees unrestricted access to customers' sensitive video data, through which "employees and third-party contractors were able to view, download, and transfer customers' sensitive video data" due to the "dangerously overbroad access and lax attitude toward privacy and security."
In 2017, one Ring employee viewed videos made by some 81 female customers and employees using company products, the FTC argued.
One employee noticed the misconduct, which culminated in the wrongdoer's termination, the federal commission added.
In another incident that took place in May 2018, one customer had information related to her recordings handed over to her ex-husband without her consent, a complaint regarding the matter said, while an employee was found to have given Ring devices to people before watching their videos without their knowledge.
As part of a two-decade-long agreement between Ring and the FTC, the former is required to inform customers how much access to their data the company and its contractors have.
Ring subsequently changed its policies in 2019 so that most Ring employees and contractors had limited access to customers' private video, as they could no longer access the data without consent.
The settlements should send a message to tech companies that their need to collect data was not an excuse to break the law, FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya told Reuters. "This is a very clear signal to them."
The fines, though standing at a large $30.8 million, are a mere fraction of Amazon's $3.2 billion first-quarter profit.
In a complaint against the retail giant, the FTC said Amazon violated rules protecting children's privacy, as well as rules against deceiving customers who were using Alexa.
The FTC complaint revealed that Amazon told users it would delete voice transcripts and location information upon request before failing to do so.
"The unlawfully retained voice recordings provided Amazon with a valuable database for training the Alexa algorithm to understand children, benefiting its bottom line at the expense of children's privacy," the FTC's complaint filed in Washington said.