Privacy concerns over Amazon ‘Echo babysitter’ smart speaker that records children’s voices and stores them online

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The Daily Mail | Source URL

Amazon released its first Echo device for kids last month, but now lawmakers are raising privacy concerns due to a feature that records children’s voices and stores them online.

Called the Echo Dot Kids Edition, it looks just like Amazon’s other Alexa-enabled devices, but includes new parental controls, child-friendly content and a range of colorful protective cases. 

Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, and Congressman Joe Barton, a Republican, questioned the giant corporation over the privacy issues.

In a response, Amazon said parents can permanently erase the recordings whenever they choose. 

The company also has stated it will not to use the records for any marketing or advertising purposes, instead only for improving the device’s functionality.

‘Parents can access all their children’s voice recordings in the Alexa app, and delete them individually or all at once, which also deletes them from the Amazon server,’ an Amazon spokesperson told the Mercury News

The spokesperson said: ‘FreeTime on Alexa voice recordings are only used for delivering and improving the Alexa voice service and FreeTime service—they are not used for advertising or Amazon.com product recommendations.’  

The Echo Dot Kids Edition starts at $80 (£57).

With Echo Dot Kids Edition, Amazon says Alexa becomes a ‘kid-friendly DJ, comedian and storyteller [who’s] always getting smarter’. 

If your kid breaks an Echo Dot, Amazon says parents can return it and they’ll replace it for free.

The Echo Dot Kids Edition can play age-appropriate music and audiobooks, give child-specific answers to questions and comes with a free one-year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited.

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is a subscription service that provides access to more than 10,000 kinds of kid-friendly content like videos, books, TV shows and movies. 

The Unlimited version comes free for two months with an Echo Dot Kids Edition, but otherwise costs Prime subscribers $3. 

The firm said that starting today, the basic version of FreeTime can be added to any Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Plus at no cost. 

The free version of FreeTime comes with a range of parental control features like time limits, the ability to filter explicit songs, review your kid’s Alexa activity and an education Q&A, which lets kids ask Alexa questions about topics like science, math, spelling and definitions. 

Another smart FreeTime feature, called ‘Magic Word,’ rewards kids when they’re polite and use ‘please’ when they talk to Alexa. 

The Echo Dot Kids Edition is packaged as an intelligent, round-the-clock digital assistant for kids that gives ‘peace of mind’ for parents, the firm said. 

‘Tens of millions of households already use Alexa, and today we’re excited to introduce an entirely new way for kids to have fun and learn with Alexa,’ said Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Amazon Devices and Services, in a statement.  

‘With Echo Dot Kids Edition and FreeTime on Alexa, parents can have peace of mind knowing their kids are getting age-appropriate content, while they listen to music, ask questions, enjoy Audible books, use Alexa skills, and more’. 

Amazon says Alexa is also able to ‘speak kid,’ so that she provides age-appropriate suggestions whenever a kid says ‘Alexa, I’m bored’. 

She can also tell knock-knock jokes and play kid-appropriate songs. 

The firm is hoping that the Echo Dot Kids Edition, in tandem with the FreeTime app, will make household communications easier.

With FreeTime for Alexa, parents can call, message and DropIn on Alexa devices to tell kids when their dinner is ready, the firm said. 

Additionally, the extended features on FreeTime Unlimited give parents greater access to their child’s activity on the Alexa app. 

Using the Parent Dashboard feature, parents can see what kinds of activity their kids are engaging in, such as books, videos, apps, or web, broken down by time spent on each activity.  

WHAT PARENTAL CONTROLS ARE INCLUDED IN AMAZON’S FREETIME SERVICE? 

Amazon on Wednesday launched the Echo Dot Kids Edition that comes with a free two-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited. 

The $80 device is very similar to other Echo devices, but it features a colorful protective bumper and a slew of features targeted for children. 

FreeTime is Amazon’s subscription service that gives users access to more than 10,000 kinds of kid-friendly content, including TV shows, books and movies

It also comes with parental controls that give parents greater access to what their kids are doing on the Alexa app. 

The parental controls include:  

  • Time limits – Parents can set bedtime limits to protect against kids ‘talking with Alexa late into the night’ or to pause devices for dinner or homework time
  • Parental controls – Parents can use the ‘Parent Dashboard’ in the Alexa app to choose which services and skills kids can use, as well as turn off voice purchasing 
  • Block explicit songs – Parents with Amazon Music can filter playback songs with explicit lyrics. Amazon says it’ll be added for compatible services in the future (presumably Pandora, Spotify, etc.)
  • Activity review – Allows parents to see kid’s FreeTime on Alexa activity, as well as review voice recordings in the Alexa app
  • Magic Word – This feature rewards kids when they’re polite and use the word please while asking Alexa questions
  • Educational Q&A – Kids can ask Alexa questions about science, math, definitions, spelling and more. 

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