Amazon privacy claims over Alexa voice recordings should stay in federal court, magistrate says

21 October 2019 00:00 by Amy Miller

Parents’ claims that Amazon illegally recorded their children’s voices on Alexa-enabled devices should stay in federal court, a magistrate judge in Seattle said.

US Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson recommended that US District Judge Richard Jones deny the company's motion to compel arbitration, finding that the children’s claims aren't related to any contract between Amazon and their parents.

The case is one of at least seven lawsuits Amazon is facing over Alexa’s voice recordings filed on behalf of consumers from more than two-dozen states as US tech companies face growing scrutiny over voice-recognition software. In this case, 23 children filed suit through their parents in June, accusing Amazon of violating laws in eight states that require consent before a voice can be recorded.

Amazon argued that the case doesn’t belong in federal court because the parents agreed to arbitrate any disputes when they signed up to use the Alexa service on their home devices. Their children directly benefited from and “knowingly exploited” their parents’ contracts, and parents can’t avoid those agreements now by suing under their children’s names, Amazon said.

“Established principles of equity do not allow the parents or their children to duck out of this agreement to arbitrate,” Amazon said. “That express agreement precludes this action from proceeding.”

Peterson, who heard oral arguments on the issue on Oct. 17, disagreed.

It’s true that the parents accepted Amazon’s terms when they set up their devices, and those contracts contain arbitration agreements with class-action waiver provisions, she said. Court have also found the arbitration provision at issue valid and enforceable, she said.

But the only question before the court now is whether children are also bound by their parents’ arbitration agreements, even though they are not Amazon account holders and did not personally enter into any contracts with Amazon before using an Alexa device, she said.

There is no legal theory that binds individuals to arbitration agreements that they have not signed or agreed to, she said. In addition, the children are making statutory claims not related to any contractual rights between Amazon and their parents, she said.

Therefore, Amazon cannot compel arbitration based on a theory that they “knowingly exploited” a contract they never relied upon, Peterson said.

“Amazon’s policy arguments, however appealing at first blush, are simply not supported by caselaw,” Peterson said.

The parties have until Nov. 4 to file any objections to her recommendations with the court.

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