An employee used Amazon Ring cameras to spy on users in their bedrooms and bathrooms, according to US officials.
Several employees have used the company’s smart home cameras, designed to allow people to monitor their homes, to spy on people without their knowledge, according to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Amazon settled for $5.8 million in this case, alleging that an employee had spied on 81 Ring customers and employees through its cameras.
The company faces two major fines for violating users’ privacy rights. The other was for violating children’s rights by not deleting Alexa’s recordings, even at the request of parents, which resulted in an additional $25 million fine.
The FTC is also investigating Amazon.com’s $1.7 billion deal to buy iRobot Corp., announced in August 2022 in Amazon’s latest attempt to break into the smart home device space, and is currently conducting an independent antitrust investigation into Amazon.
Amazon, which bought Ring in April 2018, has promised to make some changes to its practices.
“While we disagree with the FTC’s assertions regarding Alexa and Ring, and deny breaking the law, these settlements leave these issues behind,” Amazon.com said in a statement.
The FTC noted that Ring gave employees unfettered access to customers’ sensitive video data: “As a result of this seriously excessive access and lax attitude toward privacy and security, employees and third-party contractors have been able to view, download, and transmit customers’ sensitive video data.”
In one case in 2017, a Ring employee watched videos of at least 81 Ring customers and employees using Ring products. “Ring was not discovered, the employee had been snooping for months,” the FTC said.
A colleague noticed the misconduct and the employee was eventually fired, according to the FTC complaint.
In May 2018, an employee provided information about client records to the person’s ex-spouse without consent, according to the complaint. In another case, an employee was found to have distributed Ring devices to people and then watched videos of them without their knowledge, the FTC said.
As part of the FTC’s settlement with Ring, which expires after 20 years, Ring must disclose to customers how much the company and its contractors have access to their data.
In February 2019, Ring changed its policies so that most Ring employees or contractors can access a customer’s video only with that person’s consent.
Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya told Reuters that the settlements should send a message to tech companies that their need to collect data is not an excuse to break the law. “It’s a very clear signal for them,” he said.
The fines, which total $30.8 million, are a fraction of Amazon’s $3.2 billion in profits in the first quarter.
In Washington state’s complaint against Amazon.com, the FTC said the company violated rules protecting children’s privacy and rules against cheating consumers with Alexa. For example, the FTC complaint alleges that Amazon told users it would remove voice transcripts and location information if requested, but then failed to do so.
The FTC noted that “the illegally obscured audio recordings provided Amazon with a valuable database for training the Alexa algorithm to understand children, leveraging its results at the expense of children’s privacy.”