Automatic Listening Exploitation Act of 2019 (HR 4048, 116th Congress)

Policy Details

Policy Details

Last Action
Introduced in House
Date of Last Action
Jul 25 2019
Congressional Session
116th Congress
Date Introduced
Jul 25 2019
Publication Date
May 27 2020

SciPol Summary

In response to growing concern over misuse of private audio or video recordings obtained from home smart devices, Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA-6) introduced the Automatic Listening Exploitation Act of 2019 (HR 4048) to the House of Representatives in July 2019. The use of smart connected devices in the home is increasingly common. Roughly one quarter of US adults own at least one smart voice-activated home device and this number is projected to rise drastically by 2023. The integration of smart technology in the home creates uncertainty towards privacy and data security of the user.

Under this bill, providers of smart speakers (electronic device used to access internet services through a voice-command interface such as Siri-enabled HomePods) and video doorbells (doorbells with a microphone and camera connected to the internet like Ring Video Doorbells) would be required to permanently delete any recording if requested by the individual who’s voice or image is captured. Making and storing recordings or transcripts would be forbidden unless directly activated by the individual interacting with the device using a known action. The device will need to audibly or visibly indicate that the recording is activated. The bill also limits providers’ usage of any recordings and transcripts obtained by a device, or sharing data with a third party for any purpose other than to process a request by the user or for service improvements.

Fines of up to $40,000 can be imposed for each recording made without individual’s permission. If enacted, the provisions of the bill will be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission according to the requirements of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

To date, numerous examples of data misuse from smart devices have been reported.  Such cases range from Amazon employees listening to couples having intercourse, storing of sensitive data from a children’s device (even after being deleted by the user), and sharing audio recordings to people without consent of the recorded individuals. In a series of letters to Amazon (first letter, second letter)  Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) raised concerns over how smart device manufactures secure and utilize user data citing a claim that Ring Video Doorbell is granting access to video footage captured by interned-connected smart doorbells to over 400 police departments nationwide that raises potential civil liberties concerns.

Overall, such issues have done little to jeopardize public trust in the technology as more and more users engage with these devices. A poll of global consumers found that 75% of people surveyed do not trust the way their private data is being used. Yet, of those individuals, nearly 70% claimed to have at least one smart device. Furthermore, of the individuals who identified being “very concerned” about data usage and piracy concerns, only 16% were less likely to own smart devices than the general public. The study suggests that consumers lean towards more formal regulation in the market, with some 88% of people surveyed believing that regulators should ensure privacy and security standards. To date no such federal legislation exists.

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