Just because someone uses an Amazon Alexa device doesn’t mean they’ve entered into a contract with Amazon.
That’s one finding in a proposed order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson that would deny Amazon’s attempt to force arbitration and dismiss a class action lawsuit. The suit, filed in federal court in Seattle in June, alleges Amazon violated laws in Washington and seven other states by recording private communications without obtaining consent.
The plaintiffs in the case are 23 children, who brought the suit through their parents.
The proposed ruling says that in purchasing and activating Alexa-enabled voice computing devices, the children’s parents did enter into a contract with Amazon, which requires disputes be settled through arbitration rather than in court — but the children did not.
The company’s lawyers argued that the contract should apply to the children, too, because they benefited from it through “the ability to ask Alexa for a weather report, homework help, or to play music,” Peterson wrote in a report attached to her proposed order.
By that logic, Peterson wrote, any individual who directly benefits in some way from a service – even though someone else entered a contract to obtain it – could be bound to settle any resulting dispute through arbitration.
Citing other federal court rulings, Peterson wrote that this “would lead to absurd results, as even a casual visitor to a residence could be bound by an agreement without notice.” Anyone can use any Alexa-enabled device by speaking to it, regardless of their identity.
The case highlights unanswered questions about privacy, notification and consent as microphones connected to massive corporations such as Amazon and Google proliferate in homes through so-called smart speakers and other devices.
Last week, Google’s devices chief Rick Osterloh was asked by a BBC interviewer if people should be notified when they enter a space where these devices are in use.
“Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate,” he said.