Letter to FTC on Corporate Surveillance

  • Amazon’s Wi-Fi enabled devices have been shown to be deeply insecure on multiple occasions. Hackers broke into Ring cameras to torment and harass families including one man who watched and spoke to a little girl in her bedroom. The Neighbors App shared the location of installed Ring devices, while the Ring device itself leaked users’ Wi-Fi passwords to the public. And Alexa exposed personal information, like home addresses and banking data, through a vulnerability that gave access to users’ voice history. Recently, a whistleblower sounded the alarm on the corporation’s poor data security.
    Amazon’s attempts at improving security are often performative. Consumers who integrate multiple Amazon’s smart home products are unable to turn on the end to end encryption on their Ring devices. Sidewalk customers have to opt out instead of opt in to the network — meaning users participate in Sidewalk without consent.
  • Amazon Ring’s Neighbors App gamifies the racial profiling of Black and brown people by facilitating and rewarding self-deputized onlookers to police their neighborhood and escalate reports of “suspicious people” based on who they feel belongs there or not. In one specific instance, a woman shared footage of an unidentified man on her porch on Amazon Ring’s Neighbors app, which is digitally patrolled by police. The man was later killed by sheriff’s deputies. Amazon’s surveillance network fuels the criminalization of Black and brown people by amplifying existing racism in our communities and policing — further subjecting communities of color to repressive police violence and feeding a system of mass incarceration.
  • Amazon collects personal information from children under 13. In 2019 a coalition of groups filed a complaint urging an investigation of Echo Dot Kids for potentially violating Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Since then, concerns have been raised about other Amazon devices’ surveillance of children. Amazon Ring took footage from children’s Halloween outings and turned it into a commercial for a national ad campaign, seemingly without parental consent. The advertisement was later pulled.
    Despite the privacy concerns with Amazon Kindle, it is being used as an e-learning device in schools and libraries throughout the country. When it comes to the surveillance of children, Amazon has failed to be clear about what information it collects from kids and how it uses that information. It’s also unclear how it obtains verifiable parental consent prior to the collection, use, and/or disclosure of kids’ personal data.
  • Amazon’s smart surveillance ecosystem sweeps up unprecedented amounts of data that can easily be paired with facial surveillance technology. These integrations further enable the tracking of people across neighborhoods and cities. Facial recognition is a discriminatory and experimental technology with a bias that harms people of color, women, and gender-non-conforming people. Even if the prejudicial inaccuracies of this technology were somehow fixed, facial recognition would still pose a danger to everyone, not just customers.
  • In over 2,000 cities across the country, Amazon partners with police and fire departments. For its police partners, Amazon provides warrantless access to request and store footage from thousands of Ring cameras. This backdoor, mass surveillance access gives cops unprecedented power to subvert the Fourth Amendment. Thanks to Amazon, police departments in many cities have their own privately-run surveillance network that they access with zero oversight. Once police have this footage, they are free to do what they please with it, including sharing it with other parties.
    Furthermore as our nation grapples with the violent policing of Black and brown communities, it’s concerning that roughly half of the police departments partnered with Amazon “are responsible for over a third of fatal police encounters nationwide” — a shocking statistic given that only around 7% of our nation’s police departments had a Ring partnership at the time.



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Athena is a coalition working together to break the dangerous stranglehold of corporate power over our democracy, economy, and planet. @athenaforall