Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, has settled with US Federal Trade Commission for $5.8 million after a Ring doorbell camera employee was found spying on female customers in 2017, using cameras installed in bedrooms and bathrooms.
The employee used Ring products to watch videos made by at least 81 female customers and Ring employees, the FTC said in its complaint.
“Ring did not notice the employee’s spying for months,” the FTC added, saying, “Ring’s lack of privacy and security exposed consumers to peeping and harassment.”
The employee was fired from the job only after a co-worker discovered the wrongdoing and exposed the scandal.
The US regulator said Amazon had allowed its Ring employees to access customers’ sensitive video data without any restrictions, which led to the situation getting out of hand.
“Because of this dangerously wide access and careless attitude toward privacy and security, employees and third-party contractors could view, download, and transfer customers’ sensitive video data.”
It also said that hackers could get hold of the sensitive media. They could not only access video streams but also control cameras to abuse minors, threaten families and ask for ransom if they wanted to avoid private images or videos being leaked.
Amazon also agreed to pay $25 million after FTC found that Alexa (virtual assistant technology) breached the privacy rights of children. FTC said that Alexa did not delete recordings when parents asked and kept them longer than needed.
“The voice recordings that were kept unlawfully gave Amazon a valuable database for training the Alexa algorithm to understand children, benefiting its bottom line at the cost of children’s privacy,” the FTC said.
Amazon said it did not agree with FTC’s claims about Alexa and Ring and denied breaking the law, but it was happy to end the matter with the settlements.
“We disagree with the FTC’s claims regarding both Alexa and Ring and deny violating the law, but these settlements resolve these matters.”
The total fine of $30 million is small compared to Amazon’s $3.2 billion profit in the first quarter. However, FTC’s firm stance and action on a multinational company is likely to send a message to the big tech companies who have been avoiding responsibility for a long time.