Judge: Amazon “cannot claim shock” that bathroom spycams were used as advertised

Get ready for camera restrictions.

After a spy camera designed to look like a towel hook was purchased on Amazon and illegally used for months to capture photos of a minor in her private bathroom, Amazon was sued.

The plaintiff—a former Brazilian foreign exchange student then living in West Virginia—argued that Amazon had inspected the camera three times and its safety team had failed to prevent allegedly severe, foreseeable harms still affecting her today.

Amazon hoped the court would dismiss the suit, arguing that the platform wasn’t responsible for the alleged criminal conduct harming the minor. But after nearly eight months deliberating, a judge recently largely denied the tech giant’s motion to dismiss.

Amazon’s biggest problem persuading the judge was seemingly the product descriptions that the platform approved. An amended complaint included a photo from Amazon’s product listing that showed bathroom towels hanging on hooks that disguised the hidden camera. Text on that product image promoted the spycams, boasting that they “won’t attract attention” because each hook appears to be “a very ordinary hook.”

Because “Amazon approved product descriptions suggesting consumers use” the spycam “to record private moments in a bathroom,” US district judge Robert Chambers wrote, “Amazon cannot claim shock when a consumer does just that.”

“These allegations raise a reasonable inference Amazon sold a camera knowing it would be used to record a third party in a bathroom without their consent,” Chambers wrote.

Perhaps most alarming to the plaintiff, Amazon’s Product Safety Team specifically inspected the camera to “ensure” that Amazon wasn’t platforming a product being used to “infringe privacy,” “surreptitiously record others for sexual purposes,” or “create and store child sex abuse material.” That review allegedly did not prevent the spy cam from being used to do just that, the lawsuit alleged, putting consumers at risk of alleged harms suffered by the plaintiff, including “chronic tremors, insomnia, headaches, nausea, hypotension with associated blurred vision, dizziness, compulsive overeating, avoidance behavior, and paranoia.”

In addition to refusing blame, Amazon unsuccessfully argued that none of those harms could be considered physical injury. To the contrary, Chambers wrote that “if proven,” the plaintiff’s physical harms are considered “severe” because “emotional trauma inflicted during a child’s ‘tender years’ has an ‘indelible effect’ from which ‘they may never recover.’”

A lawyer for the plaintiff, Lee Javins, told Ars that he thinks this is an important issue for the court to explore. He commended the court for making the right decision after taking its time “to provide a thorough legal analysis” on legal theories that he said “haven’t come up a lot with today’s technology.”

A potentially “dangerous ruling” for spycam industry

The plaintiff hopes a jury will decide that Amazon “had wanton, conscious, reckless, and outrageous indifference to the health, safety, and welfare of children.”

She has also alleged that Amazon “conspired” with the spycam seller to “market and distribute a defective product both knew was intended and used for illegal and criminal purposes.” Not only did Amazon allegedly “shape” the “marketing and promotion of the camera” by controlling “how products are depicted and the content of product listings and descriptions,” but Amazon also “boosted the camera’s sales” with its “specialized algorithms,” the lawsuit alleged.

A loss for Amazon could put the online retailer on the hook for punitive damages. Amazon could also be ordered to stop selling the spycam used to harm the plaintiff and any products considered “identical” to that spycam. Chambers wrote that proving “foreseeability” of harms “is key” to defeating Amazon’s defense.

Tech legal expert Eric Goldman wrote that a victory for the plaintiff could be considered “a dangerous ruling for the spy cam industry and for Amazon,” because “the court’s analysis could indicate that all surreptitious hook cameras are categorically illegal to sell.” That could prevent completely legal uses of cameras designed to look like clothes hooks, Goldman wrote, such as hypothetical in-home surveillance uses.

Now, discovery will proceed as the plaintiff can argue her case at trial. The trial could shed more light on “what Amazon’s Product Safety team thought when it evaluated this item,” Goldman wrote.

Currently, Amazon advertises several “clothes hook hidden camera” products when users search for “bathroom spy camera,” an Ars search found, but it’s unclear if the spy cam at the center of this lawsuit is still available on Amazon.

In his blog, Goldman pointed to an Amazon online listing that appeared to be the spycam in question. However, Javins told Ars that while that particular listing looked like the “same type of camera,” it had a different product description from the spycam sold in the case, where “the whole vibe” of the listing “was just kind of creepy.”

Ars unsuccessfully attempted to contact Amazon for comment on the judge’s order and the online listing Goldman found. Shortly after submitting that request, Amazon appears to have removed the online listing but has not yet offered Ars any explanation.

Excuse me, I need to go vomit.

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That moment when the 3 year old walks by and says …
“Hey Alexa, play the bathroom spy camera”

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This whole statement implies knowledge of the intent of any buyer. Is Amazon supposed to develop precog technology?
image

I know a few consenting adults that could easily imagine some non nefarious use of this product for personal entertainment. Not many mind you, but for sure a non zero number.

Just because I can buy B003KRA54G does not mean I will use it immorally or illegally.

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After 8 months, this lawsuit might be nearing the end of legal maneuvering over the potential scope of deposition.

The main arguments which Amazon will make to claim it is not responsible for the content of the listings, probably have not been broached.

I am sure this judge already feels his patience has been strained.

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Where/when is it legal to install a “bathroom spy camera” specifically designed to not look like a camera but a different thing, in a bathroom known to be used by minors who can not legally consent to the possibility that they might be recorded?

I think this is a very specific case that might bring some limited changes to Amazon, but not a blanket ban on all cameras, knives, spice grinders, etc.

But IANAL so who knows? :wink:

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Amazon already flat out bans “spy cams” I thought, so letting this one sell then claiming “not our problem” is just stupid, and they will not get away with it.

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I won’t go into too many details here, but NO WHERE is it legal to install a camera in a bathroom, and in some states it isn’t even legal to install cameras INSIDE a residence. Outside is ok.

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:grimacing: Seems like Amazon should’ve known that and added “bathroom spy cameras” to prohibited items. I’m sure their argument is that installing bathroom cameras is illegal but purchasing them is not. Anything for a buck.

And that also calls into question this “expert’s” assertion of “completely legal uses of cameras designed to look like clothes hooks”:

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Actually (I think) tools for privacy invasion are illegal to sell, kinda like lock picking sets

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:sweat_smile: I really should have known better than clicking on that link, but my curiosity got the better of me. Will be interesting to see the products that Amazon starts to recommend to me :laughing:

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The amount of times that happened on the OSFE, and the mods couldn’t complain cause it was a link to Amazon!!

Remember all the nosey Nancy’s out there who looked up the ASIN when I cut and paste an Amazon message about an FBA inventory problem, but I replaced the ASIN with an adult toy?

Awesome to see how many people simply had to try and figure out what I was selling or what my account name was, only to get an image of a 12" phallus. It wasn’t even a link it was just the ASIN in text.

I laughed all day on that one.

Amazon never uses a scalpel when a nuke would do.

I had to stop selling lightbars because I couldn’t say the plastic was resistant to decay from UV light (an important property for lightbars). It would flag them as pesticides. I would explain the only danger they posed to insects is when an insect would strike them at 55 MPH

Their application and enforcement of their own rules is sporadic and spotty at best. It is not applied with any consistency. Any reports of violations are met with “we haven’t gotten to them yet”

They are to busy, with Pesticide violations and Hazmat takedowns on items that are not Hazmat.

In the real world they would go to court for Child Pornography.

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Too true. I keep trying to make them into reasonable bots.

Yea, this whole thing is pretty sick.

This “device” only serves a single purpose which is vile and illegal.

What’s next? A toilet paper holder with a camera in it. It’s purpose is to protect against TP theft? I could see that as a real thing in 2020.

There, I made this horrific situation a little lighter.

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For 100$ on Onlyfans I can probably find someone to disagree with that statement on video.
Then there are these kind of folks…

There you go again, giving people product ideas!

:thinking:

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Pictures at 11.