Amazon, Pindrop Motions to Dismiss Granted in BIPA Voiceprint Suit

Last Friday, a Southern District of Illinois judge granted Pindrop Security, Inc.’s (Pindrop) and Amazon Web Services, Inc.’s (AWS) motions to dismiss the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) case against them, finding that the plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to show that the court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The 2019 putative class action alleged that Pindrop and AWS violated the law by “collecting, possessing, redisclosing, profiting from, and failing to safeguard their biometric identifiers and biometric information, including their voiceprints.”

According to the order, AWS “offers call center services under the brand ‘Amazon Connect,’” which allegedly “possesses and stores a variety of types of customer data, including biometric identifiers and information.” AWS partners with Pindrop, a company that provides “voiceprint services for use by call centers and customer service personnel to confirm the identity of callers.”

Allegedly, when a customer calls an AWS client’s call center, Pindrop processes the audio by analyzing the caller’s unique voice data, and sends the analytical results to AWS’s servers, the order reported. The three named plaintiffs supposedly telephoned John Hancock Life Insurance Company call centers regarding investment or insurance products. According to the plaintiffs, John Hancock makes use of Amazon Connect and Pindrop technology to enable voiceprint authentication. The order explains that by so doing, the caller need not authenticate their identity via pin code.

The plaintiffs claimed that AWS and Pindrop recorded their unique voiceprints, a practice was repeated with “every caller to John Hancock’s call centers.” Once recorded, the plaintiffs argued, AWS and Pindrop possess their biometric data within the meaning of BIPA.

The plaintiffs sought relief for the defendants’ supposedly illegal practices, including the recovery of statutory damages on behalf of a class consisting of all Illinois residents who called an entity that employed Amazon Connect and Pindrop’s technology since December 2014.

The court considered whether the plaintiffs made “a prima facie showing of specific personal jurisdiction with regard to both Pindrop and AWS,” after noting that the plaintiffs conceded that the court lacked general personal jurisdiction over the defendants.

It first addressed the plaintiffs’ contention that AWS waived its right to contest personal jurisdiction. The plaintiffs argued that AWS relinquished it right by filing a motion to compel discovery, signifying that it “intended to defend the suit on the merits in this district court.” The court rejected this argument, ruling that “its motion to compel discovery of information relevant to arbitration demonstrates the opposite: that AWS thought this may be the improper venue to decide Plaintiffs’ claims and that it would not be litigating the merits of the claims in this Court.”

The court then concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendants because “the litigation does not arise from contacts that Defendants themselves created with Illinois or actions purposefully directed at residents of Illinois.” Specifically, the court highlighted that the defendants and John Hancock are all non-Illinois companies, and that individual callers of all states are subject to the defendants’ same practices.

Indeed, the court wrote, “there is no indication that either of these companies purposefully directed their activities at Illinois citizens or that this litigation arises from contacts they created with Illinois.” Ultimately, the plaintiffs merely calling John Hancock from their Illinois phone numbers in Illinois was “insufficient to confer specific personal jurisdiction over the foreign Defendants,” the court held. Accordingly, the court granted the defendants’ dismissal motions and dismissed the plaintiffs’ individual claims without prejudice.

The plaintiffs are represented by Schlichter, Bogard & Denton, Pindrop by Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and AWS by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC.