Amazon has been in the firing line once again, but this time for selling hidden cameras disguised as everyday objects used to spy on underage girls. The retail giant is being sued by a Brazillian student, for selling the cameras used by a man to record her in private spaces while she was underage.
Darrel Wells from West Virginia was accused in 2022 of unlawfully recording a student he was hosting by setting up spy cameras in the bathroom and bedroom. The cameras were disguised as clothes hooks and reportedly purchased on Amazon as part of the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which required certain products to undergo inspection to see if they are safe to sell. The student is now trying to sue Amazon on the grounds that these cameras have caused unspecified damages.
Spy cameras are controversial devices; designed for the sole intention of recording inconspicuously, in the wrong hands they can be used to invade someone's privacy and malevolently monitor people. The invasion of privacy lasted for nine months, and when Wells was reported to the police they found him to have more than six hundred child pornographic images.
Wells has since been charged with ten counts of criminal invasion of privacy and child porn. He is now being held at Western Regional Jail with a $125,000 (approximately £98,000 / AU$183,000) cash-only bond while a criminal case is underway. More details on the case can be found here.
In March 2023 Amazon attempted to have the case thrown out, but the motion was rejected by a judge who holds the company responsible for selling a product that is then used for its advertised purposes.
Perhaps stricter restrictions are needed when it comes to the sale of spy cameras, but the solution is unclear. Vetting everyone who wants to buy a spy camera by cross-checking sex offenders will surely upset innocent people with a genuine need for a hidden camera, and those who have never been caught won’t be flagged. While you can buy hidden camera detectors, most people don’t think to scan a room as you wouldn’t assume you’re being watched – but perhaps we all need to be more cautious.