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Massachusetts rep introduces bill aimed at tightening privacy protections for smart speaker owners

After all three of the main developers of voice assistant platforms have faced privacy breaches, either through whistleblowers or through human or mechanical errors, a member of Congress is moving to address the risks to consumers. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) has introduced a new act that would give people recourse for when smart speakers and smart doorbells collect data in violation of their terms of agreements.

The Automatic Listening Exploitation Act, abbreviated with a dig as ALEXA Act, would let the Federal Trade Commission seek penalties when a smart speaker or smart doorbell records conversations without the correct activation. The act would cover cases that have emerged at Apple and Google, where the voice assistant on a device is mistakenly activated and records audio it wasn’t meant to. Amazon hasn’t had any whistleblowers come forward to confirm whether Alexa also makes many of these accidental activations, but anecdotally it seems certain that this happens with all voice assistants.

The FTC penalties under Moulton’s proposal would total up to $40,000 per infraction at the federal level. It would also permit consumers to require the deletion of any recordings or transcripts made by a smart speaker as well as any video or image logged by a smart doorbell.

“Smart speakers and doorbells are great, but consumers should have a way to fight back when tech companies collect more data than Americans have agreed to give up,” Moulton said. “More broadly, Congress should give Americans a bigger say in the data that companies collect. It’s time for a next generation of digital privacy laws, and it can start by holding corporations to their own privacy commitments.”

Anna Washenko

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