Alexa, where are all those documents?
Amazon (AMZN) - Get Free Report lost a round in a court when a federal judge ordered the internet retail giant to produce millions of documents in a legal battle over the marketing of its Alexa-enabled devices and their recording of users’ conversations.
In his ruling, District Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the US District Court for the Western District of Washington said that "these devices are ubiquitous in our society, and plaintiffs are seeking astronomical damages commensurate with the number of people who have been recorded over the years," Bloomberg Law reported on Nov. 1.
“Plaintiffs’ queries may not be perfect, but they represent a good faith effort to generate search term strings that will capture relevant documents," Lasnik said.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Lasnik said the plaintiffs need discovery concerning Amazon’s intent in marketing Alexa devices, complaints received by the company, and how Alexa-enabled devices function.
The internet retail giant estimated it would have to produce 4.4 million documents in response to the plaintiffs’ requests.
Amazon Alexa Has a 'Wake' Word
Amazon had argued the plaintiffs’ discovery requests were unduly burdensome and weren’t proportional to the needs of the lawsuit.
Alexa first launched on the Amazon Echo smart speaker in November 2014.
The complaint filed on behalf of a number of plaintiffs said the case arises out of "Amazon’s practice of using smart-speaker technology ('Alexa') to surreptitiously save permanent recordings of millions of Americans’ voices, all without their knowledge or consent."
"Alexa devices are designed to record and respond to communications immediately after an individual says a word known as a 'wake' word, which usually consists of an individual saying the words 'Alexa' or 'Echo,' the complaint said.
Once the Alexa device recognizes the “wake” word, the complaint said, Alexa then records the ensuing communication--including anything an individual in the vicinity of the device may say--and then transmits that recording to Amazon’s servers for interpretation and processing before receiving the relevant data back in response.
Amazon Hears 'A Host of Private Conversations'
"Amazon then indefinitely and permanently stores a copy of that recording on its own servers for later use and commercial benefit, warehousing billions of private conversations in the process," the complaint said.
The complaint said that Alexa’s eavesdropping range "captures a host of private conversations that many individuals would find extremely personal, including conversations about one’s family, medical conditions, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and other personal or private matters."
Several comments on Twitter expressed concern about the privacy issue.
"They have to be listening to us right," one tweet read.
"Guaranteed," one person responded.
"I’ve been telling y’all for months– there’s a reason why most of us that work in tech or software development don’t use those devices… If the people making the product don’t use it…," another person tweeted.