According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a former employee of Amazon.com’s Ring doorbell camera unit engaged in months-long surveillance of female customers in 2017, resulting in a privacy violation.
FTC announced a settlement of $5.8 million with Amazon.com in relation to this incident. Additionally, Amazon agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it violated children’s privacy rights by retaining Alexa recordings longer than necessary, despite parental requests for deletion.
“Our focus has been and remains on delivering products and features our customers love, while upholding our commitment to protect their privacy and security. Ring promptly addressed these issues on its own years ago, well before the FTC began its inquiry. While we disagree with the FTC’s allegations and deny violating the law, this settlement resolves this matter so we can focus on innovating on behalf of our customers,” Ring said in a statement.
These settlements by the FTC are part of their efforts to hold Big Tech accountable for prioritizing data collection profits over user privacy. The FTC is also investigating Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot Corp and conducting a separate antitrust probe into the company.
Though Amazon acquired Ring in April 2018, it has pledged to implement certain changes in its practices. In a statement, Amazon expressed disagreement with the FTC’s claims but acknowledged the settlements as a means to resolve the issues at hand.
FTC accused Ring of providing employees with unrestricted access to customers’ sensitive video data. This access and lack of regard for privacy and security allowed employees and third-party contractors to view, download, and transfer customers’ sensitive video data.
In one case, an employee viewed videos made by at least 81 female customers and Ring employees, with the spying going unnoticed for several months. After the misconduct was discovered by a colleague, the employee was eventually terminated.
In another incident, an employee shared a customer’s recordings with their ex-spouse without consent. The FTC complaint also revealed that an employee provided Ring devices to individuals and watched their videos without their knowledge.
As part of the settlement agreement with the FTC, Ring is required to disclose to customers the level of access that the company and its contractors have to their data. In February 2019, Ring modified its policies to ensure that most employees or contractors could only access a customer’s private video with explicit consent.
FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya emphasized that these settlements should serve as a message to tech companies that collecting data does not excuse breaking the law. The fines imposed on Amazon totaled $30.8 million, which represents only a fraction of the company’s first-quarter profit of $3.2 billion.