A proposed class action claims Amazon has unlawfully collected Illinois residents’ voiceprints through its Alexa virtual assistant despite failing to make certain statutory disclosures regarding the collection of biometric information.
The lawsuit alleges Amazon.com, Inc. and Amazon.com Services, LLC have violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a state law that governs the collection of residents’ biometric data, including voiceprints, by private entities, by failing to:
Obtain a written release from Alexa users to collect, obtain, use or store their voiceprints;
Inform Alexa users in writing that their biometric data will be collected or stored and of the specific purpose and length of term for which their information will be collected, stored and used;
Develop a publicly available retention schedule and guidelines for the permanent destruction of Alexa users’ sensitive biometric information; and
Store, transmit or protect from disclosure the individuals’ data using reasonable industry standards of care and in a manner “the same as or more protective” than the manner in which Amazon stores, transmits or protects other sensitive information.
Moreover, Amazon has unlawfully sold, leased, traded or otherwise profited from Alexa users’ biometric information and disclosed, redisclosed or otherwise disseminated the data to third parties without complying with the BIPA, according to the complaint.
The 30-page case states that Alexa-enabled devices are activated when a user says a “wake word,” such as “Alexa.” Upon recognizing a wake word, or even speech patterns that are similar to a wake word, the device begins recording a user’s oral communication and transmits the voiceprint to Amazon to “undergo a series of steps to process a response using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service,” the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, although Amazon represents that the recordings captured by Alexa will be used only to interpret and respond to a user’s requests, the tech giant has more recently admitted that the voiceprints are stored “indefinitely” on multiple servers. The case claims users’ voiceprints, which are sometimes mistakenly captured when Alexa misinterprets a wake word, are used by Amazon to fuel the development of its artificial intelligence capabilities:
“In Amazon’s case, Alexa’s machine learning is bolstered by what likely amounts to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of voiceprints that Amazon has stored on its servers, which it uses to constantly refine the natural language understanding that is critical to Alexa’s function.”
The case goes on to allege that Amazon employs “thousands of people” to listen to the voice recordings captured by Alexa-enabled devices and transcribe the data to “eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and to help it better respond to commands.”
According to the case, the only way to stop Alexa-enabled devices from collecting voiceprints is to turn off the device’s microphone or deactivate the device itself, “both of which defeat the device’s utility.”
The lawsuit, which was transferred from Washington to Illinois federal court on August 13, looks to represent Illinois residents who own an Amazon Alexa device and from whom Amazon obtained a voice recording from an Amazon Alexa device in the state during the statute of limitations period.
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