Two Amazon Alexa device users who filed suit against Amazon had their claims, arising from Amazon’s alleged use of voice data collected through its Alexa digital assistant software for purposes of targeted advertising, dismissed last week. The Seattle, Wash. court overseeing the dispute ruled that customers were on notice of the company’s data collection practices and that Amazon did not deceive them through certain public statements.
The June 2022 lawsuit centers on Amazon’s Alexa, voice-activated digital assistant software that runs on Amazon devices, including the family of “Echo” smart speakers. According to the opinion, there are more than 40 million Alexa-enabled devices operating within the United States today.
On behalf of a nationwide class of registered Alexa-enabled device users, two plaintiffs alleged that their voices were leveraged by Amazon’s Demand Side Platform (DSP) in order to enable third-party advertisers to optimize their advertising placements. In addition, the complaint pointed to three statements, made by Amazon spokespersons between 2017 and 2019 responding to media reports and affirmatively stating that Amazon does “not use customers’ voice recordings for targeted advertising.”
The filing claims the truth about Amazon’s data usage came to light in April 2022 when a group of university researchers published a research paper entitled Your Echoes are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem.
By contrast, Amazon’s position is that it uses the records of Alexa users’ transactions to inform advertisements displayed to them, but does not use Alexa users’ questions or commands, their “voice recordings,” for that purpose.
Judge Barbara J. Rothstein considered the viability of the following claims: breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violation of the Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, intrusion upon seclusion, and infringement of Washington Personality Rights Act (PRA), which protects people’s right to commercialize their voices.
As to the contract-based claim, the court said that Amazon’s applicable policies “do not create any implied duty on Amazon’s part to refrain from using Alexa-captured voice data to inform targeted advertisements.” The decision also reasoned that the plaintiffs were on notice of the Alexa Terms, which expressly spelled out Amazons’ data collection practices.
Turning to the Washington Consumer Protection Act claim, the ruling said the pleadings failed to allege that Amazon engaged in an unfair or deceptive practice through its policies’ disclosures. Judge Rothstein further explained that the plaintiffs failed to show causation as to Amazon’s public statements to the press. Absent allegations that the plaintiffs heard or relied on those statements prior to their purchase of Alexa-enabled devices, they could not establish that, but for Amazon’s public statements, their injuries would not have occurred, the opinion said.
The court dismissed the intrusion upon seclusion claim finding that fundamentally, Amazon’s alleged surveillance acts were not intentional. Lastly, Judge Rothstein held that the plaintiffs fell short of alleging a PRA violation because they did not contend that their voices were ever incorporated or otherwise used “on or in goods, merchandise, products, or advertisements.