An employee was found to have given Ring devices to people and then watched their videos without their knowledge. [Representation image] Kanok Sulaiman/Gettyimages

In a recent court filing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that a former employee of Amazon.com's Ring doorbell camera unit engaged in spying on female customers for several months in 2017.

The employee had placed cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms, resulting in privacy violations. As part of the settlement, Amazon has agreed to pay $5.8 million to address these concerns.

As part of a separate settlement outlined in a court filing in federal court in Seattle, Amazon has agreed to pay $25 million to resolve allegations of violating children's privacy rights.

The company was accused of failing to delete Alexa recordings upon parents' request and retaining them for longer than necessary.

These settlements by the FTC represent their ongoing endeavors to hold Big Tech companies accountable for their policies, which critics argue prioritize data collection profits over privacy concerns, Reuters reported.

"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," Amazon.com said in a statement.

The FTC said Ring gave employees unrestricted access to customers' sensitive video data: "As a result of this dangerously overbroad access and lax attitude toward privacy and security, employees and third-party contractors were able to view, download, and transfer customers' sensitive video data."

An employee of Ring once saw recordings of at least 81 female customers and staff using Ring devices in 2017. "Undetected by Ring, the employee continued spying for months," the FTC said.

The FTC is currently investigating Amazon.com's acquisition of iRobot Corp, a $1.7 billion deal announced in August 2022. This acquisition was seen as Amazon's further expansion into the smart home devices market. Additionally, the FTC is conducting a separate antitrust probe specifically targeting Amazon.

Following its acquisition of Ring in April 2018, Amazon has made commitments to implement certain changes in its practices.

Under the terms of the FTC agreement with Ring, which has a duration of 20 years, the company is obligated to inform customers about the extent of data access that both Ring and its contractors possess.

In February 2019, Ring updated its policies, stipulating that customer consent is required for most employees or contractors to access a customer's private video footage.

FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya emphasized to Reuters that these settlements serve as a warning to tech companies that the desire to collect data does not justify any illegal activities.

"This is a very clear signal to them," he said.

The fines, totaling $30.8 million, represent a fraction of Amazon's $3.2 billion first-quarter profit.

"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 said.

According to the complaint filed by the FTC against Amazon.com in Washington state, the company has been accused of violating regulations related to children's privacy and consumer deception regarding the use of Alexa.

The complaint highlights instances where Amazon assured users that voice transcripts and location information would be deleted upon request but failed to fulfill these promises.

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