Today, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton will introduce the Automatic Listening and Exploitation Act (ALEXA) bill, which aims to protect consumers from data collection by smart devices against their terms of service.
“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. The bill will give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), tasked with protecting consumers’ data privacy, the authority to implement penalties when digital assistants, smart doorbells, and other devices record if users haven’t said the wake word to activate the device.
There is still no principle data collection legislation in the United States. A mix of federal and state laws protect personal data to an extent, and the Federal Trade Commision Act empowers the FTC to protect consumers against unfair or deceptive practices, such as the recent $5 billion penalty over the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
If passed, the bill will allow the FTC to charge penalties of $40,000 per infraction, which could add up quickly for companies that frequently violate terms of service. According to a June study by NPR and the Edison Institute, 1 in 4 Americans has a smart speaker, totalling about 51 million. Over half of users are worried about their device being hacked, but 69% of smart speaker owners use their device daily.
Users would also be able to request deletion of any video or audio collected on smart devices. “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,” Moulton said. He told The Verge that he’d like to see this bill lead to a larger debate about data privacy in Congress. “The Europeans are way ahead of us, and yet we have a Senate that doesn’t even understand Facebook.”