The Federal Trade Commission has found that Alexa, Amazon’s personal voice assistant technology, violated a federal law meant to protect children.

The U.S. government alleges that Amazon violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law that has recently been enforced against other popular tech companies including “Fortnite” maker Epic Games and YouTube. More than 800,000 children under the age of 13 have their own Alexa profiles, according to the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission. About five years ago, the company began offering several products specifically aimed at children, including the “Echo Dot Kids Edition” smart speaker and parental controls called “FreeTime on Alexa.”

Amazon failed to delete voice recordings and location information about children, the FTC alleged in a news release Wednesday. The company will be fined $25 million.

The commission is also fining the company over Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company best known for its doorbell camera. Regulators say the company illegally allowed employees and contractors to view private videos of customers’ homes.

“At Amazon, we take our responsibilities to our customers and their families very seriously,” Amazon spokeswoman Parmita Choudhury said in a statement. “Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy and to provide customers with control over their experience. 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.”

Choudhury said Amazon agreed to “remove child profiles that have been inactive for more than 18 months” as part of the settlement and worked with the FTC to expand a compliant program called Amazon Kids. Regarding Ring, she said Amazon addressed privacy problems “before the FTC began its inquiry.”


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

The $25 million fine is significantly smaller than penalties other tech companies have paid federal regulators for privacy transgressions against children, but it is representative of the FTC’s broad scrutiny of Amazon’s sprawling businesses.

The FTC for years has also been investigating Amazon for potential violations of U.S. antitrust laws, in a wide-ranging case that opened under the Trump administration in 2019. That potential case is being closely watched as a bellwether of FTC Chair Lina Khan’s ability to rein in the power and influence of the tech industry. The prominent tech critic rose in notoriety for an academic paper she wrote in the Yale Law Journal called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which criticized the company’s dominance.

The action against Amazon had support from FTC commissioners from both parties, including former Republican commissioner Christine Wilson, who voted on the complaint before departing the agency earlier this year.

Politicians from both parties have increasingly signaled an interest in protecting children online, calling to update the 1998 COPPA law for the modern internet and grilling tech executives on their safeguards for minors. Yet multiple bipartisan bills focused on children’s privacy and safety have languished in Congress.

In the absence of action in Washington, state legislatures have recently become more active in passing laws intended to keep children safe online.

California last year passed the Age Appropriate Design Code, which would require companies to consider children’s safety in the design of their products. Netchoice, an industry group that counts Amazon as a member, has sued to block the law from taking effect. A patchwork of state laws governing youths’ time online is emerging, as Utah and Arkansas adopt laws that require social media sites to verify the ages of users.

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