Jordan Cunningham introduces California bill combating smart speaker eavesdropping

Jordan Cunningham

As part of a package of legislation aimed at protecting consumers’ data against abuses by big tech companies, Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham introduced a bill on Wednesday that calls for prohibiting smart speaker devices from eavesdropping on people for data storage and mining purposes.

Smart speakers are wireless speaker and voice command devices with integrated virtual assistants. Last year, the Amazon Alexa smart voice assistant made headlines when speakers it powered reportedly recorded the private conversation of a Portland couple inside their home and sent the recording to a contact of theirs in Seattle.

“As a society, we need to pursue policies that provide common-sense protections to safeguarding our privacy,” Cunningham said in a statement. “We should be able to enjoy the many benefits of having a home with interconnected devices without the worry that we’ve sacrificed security and privacy for convenience.”

Cunningham’s AB 1395, known as the Future of Eavesdropping Act, would prohibit smart speaker devices and manufacturers of them from storing and data mining voice recordings made with smart speakers, regardless of whether the device was triggered using a key term or phrase. AB 1395 was co-authored by Republican assemblymen James Gallagher, Tom Lackey and Chad Mayes, who collaborated with Cunningham on the “Your Data, Your Way” legislative package. 

Other bills in the legislative package include the Family Greenlight Act, Own Your Own Data Act and a bill requiring businesses that own or license personal data to provide notification to users within 72 hours of discovering a data breach.

The Family Greenlight Act would require children under the age of 16 to obtain parental permission before using social media platforms. The Own Your Own Data Act would require social media companies to give users who delete their accounts the option to have their personal data removed from the respective company’s database and records and excluded from sale.

Cunningham recently authored an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing the legislative package. The Central Coast assemblyman argued in the editorial that big tech firms’ concern for privacy is an illusion and there must be a fundamental overhaul of the way privacy is defined in the social media age.

“Our data can be sold to the highest bidder, breaches are covered up and ‘smart speakers’ eavesdrop on us in the privacy of our own home,” Cunningham wrote in the editorial.

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