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Rep. Seth Moulton Introduces Smart Speaker Privacy Act


Smart Speakers
Smart Speakers

Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) has introduced the Automatic Listening Exploitation Act. He says the bill "would create recourse for consumers when the manufacturers of smart speakers with personal assistants and smart doorbells collect private conversations and data in violation of their terms of agreements." The proposed legislation follows privacy breaches by all three of the main developers of voice assistant platforms.

According to Nielsen's Q1 2019 Total Audience Report, smart speaker adoption is at a high point with 28% of U.S. homes owning a smart speaker. This explosion of usage has caused a shift in media use as AM/FM radio is being brought back into the home via smart speaker radio streaming -- and privacy with these devices has become a real issue.

NPR and the Edison Institute released a study on smart speaker ownership data on June 25. The group found 51 million Americans own a smart speaker, about one in four Americans, and that 14 million of those Americans purchased a smart speaker in the last year. Half of users say they trust the manufacturers of the speakers to protect their data, and more than half are worried about their speakers being hacked.

"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," said Moulton. "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."

The Act would allow the Federal Trade Commission to seek penalties when digital personal assistants and smart doorbells record private conversations of users who haven't said the device's wake word or phrase or activated the doorbell. The penalties would total up to $40,000 per infraction at the federal level. The bill also allows consumers to require the deletion of any recording or transcript of sound captured by a smart speaker or video or image captured by a video doorbell's camera. The fine per incident would add up for companies that break the user agreements with their customers.

The Verge reported in January that first-to-market Amazon is estimated to have sold more than 100 million devices, including the Echo and Dot which feature Amazon's digital assistant, Alexa. Apple sold 86.2 million of its Siri-enabled Homepods by the end of 2018, and according to RBC Capital Markets, Google Home sales created $3.4 billion in revenue and will climb to $8.2 billion by 2021.

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