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Surveillance camera ring: Ex-employee looked into other people's houses

Photo: Jessica Hill / AP

With several million payments, the retail group Amazon has ended two legal disputes with the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The supervisory authority accused the company of not having handled recordings of customers' private lives carefully enough.

According to court records, in 2017, an employee of Ring, which was later acquired by Amazon, secretly observed customers with security cameras placed in bedrooms and bathrooms. The surveillance cameras transmit their footage to the cloud, to which Ring employees had unlimited access, according to the FTC complaint. "As a result of the lax attitude towards data protection and security, employees and external contractors were able to view, download and transmit sensitive video data from customers," the authority justifies its action against the company.

81 victims secretly observed

A colleague had discovered the misconduct of the employee, who is said to have observed a total of 81 customers for months. He was then released. It was not the only violation. Among other things, recordings are said to have been passed on to an ex-husband. It was only in 2019 that Amazon changed its guidelines so that employees can only access the videos with the consent of customers. After a payment of 5.8 million dollars (approx. 5.4 million euros), the proceedings are now being concluded. Amazon continues to deny wrongdoing, but will be required to better educate customers about what happens to their recordings in the future.

Another cloud device also caused trouble with the FTC. The market watchdogs complained that the voice assistant Amazon Alexa is said to have stored children's voices for too long. In addition, Amazon is said not to have deleted the recordings when the parents asked the company to do so. Here, Amazon paid 25 million dollars (23.4 million euros) to end the proceedings.

The penalties reach only a tiny fraction of Amazon's profits, which were $3.2 billion in the first quarter alone. In Europe, the group was fined 2021 million euros in July 746 for data protection violations.