Amazon has announced that Echo Dot Kids – its smart speaker specifically for children – will be available in the UK next month.
Echo Dot Kids, which was first introduced in the US in September last year, is powered by the firm’s smart speaker, Alexa, and comes in two fun child-friendly designs – a tiger and a panda.
But its release comes amid privacy and security concerns that may make parents think twice before they let the devices in their child’s bedroom.
Amazon’s smart speakers are known to store snippets of conversations users have with Alexa – and the firm has also previously admitted that some of this audio has been listened to and transcribed by staff.
To get your children into interacting with AI from an early age, Amazon is providing two options for children’s versions of Echo
Amazon later gave users the ability to opt-out of sharing their audio recordings with the firm and the option to delete old recordings.
But Echo Dot Kids – which is priced at £59.99 and ships from July 21 – still gives cause for concern, some experts believe.
‘Smart speakers packaged up for children will set off all sorts of alarm bells to privacy conscious people – and rightly so,’ Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist at ESET, told MailOnline.
‘If Amazon are recording from these devices we have bigger problems to come. This should be avoided at all costs.’
Meanwhile, Sara Nelson, the director of Privacy International’s corporate data exploitation programme, said Amazon ‘is in a position to collect huge amounts of data’.
‘It should be concerning to everyone that a company that has already been reported to have shared voice recordings from a similar device with various contractors is now positioning itself to offer up these services to our children,’ she told MailOnline.
‘Amazon must be fully transparent about how children’s data, including sensitive biometric data such as their voices, are being used, stored, analysed, and for what purposes.’
Amazon putting smart devices in children’s bedrooms has previously led to a complaint filed by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Would you let an Echo Dot Kids in your child’s bedroom? In 2019, Amazon admitted thousands of recordings had been being analysed by staff and transcribed
‘Amazon markets Echo Dot Kids as a device to educate and entertain kids,’ said Josh Golin, executive director of CCFC at the time.
‘But the real purpose is to amass a treasure trove of sensitive data that it refuses to relinquish even when directed to by parents.’
Amazon said it has ‘a longstanding commitment to preserve the trust of our customers and their families’.
Echo Dot Kids, which is available to pre-order now, has been purposefully built for children in the UK in mind, according to the tech giant, and will include its Amazon Kids parental controls.
These allow parents to control the content their children can access, and will automatically block other inappropriate content such as explicit song lyrics.
Amazon Kids+, another subscription option with access to more than 170 Audible kids’ books, is also now available on Alexa.
Amazon said it has ‘a longstanding commitment to preserve and build trust with customers and their families’
An Amazon spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We have strict measures in place for Echo Dot Kids and Amazon Kids+ to protect children and provide parents with transparency and control over the experience.
‘We have built privacy and security deeply into the Alexa service and our devices are designed to wake up only after detecting the wake word.
‘You’ll always know when Alexa is sending your request to the cloud because a blue light indicator will appear on your Echo device.’
AMAZON KIDS ON ALEXA
Amazon Kids on Alexa brings new Alexa features and parental controls to Echo device. Some are listed below:
Magic Word – The Magic Word feature offers positive reinforcement when kids use the word ‘please’ while asking questions to Alexa.
Educational Q&A – Kids can ask Alexa questions about science, maths, spelling and more.
Alexa Speaks ‘Kid’ – Alexa has age-appropriate suggestions at the ready. All kids have to say is, ‘Alexa, I’m bored’. Kids can also ask for knock-knock jokes, ask Alexa for a song, and more.
Block Explicit Lyrics – Automatically filter explicit lyrics from Amazon Music, Apple Music or Spotify.
Time Limits – Set bedtime and time limits to prevent kids talking with Alexa late into the night, or pause Echo devices for dinner.
‘Parents can review, delete or choose not to have voice recordings saved at any time.’
As part of the safety measures on the Echo Dot Kids, parents are also able to set time limits on when children can interact with Alexa.
The smart assistant has also been reconfigured to give more child-friendly answers to questions and praise children if they use the word ‘please’.
Alexa also has age-appropriate suggestions at the ready when young users say ‘Alexa, I’m bored’, such as well as songs and knock-knock jokes.
Amazon said the device will also offer access to its Kids+ subscription service, which includes a range of children-friendly audio books, radio stations and other content.
‘We’re excited to bring Echo Dot Kids to the UK for kids to have fun and learn with Alexa,’ Amazon’s vice president of devices in the EU, Eric Saarnio said.
‘More than 20 million kids and parents around the world already enjoy Amazon Kids.
‘With Echo Dot Kids, Amazon Kids and Amazon Kids+ on Alexa, parents can have peace of mind knowing their children are getting family-focused age-appropriate content.’
Echo Dot Kids was originally revealed in September along with a slew of other devices as part of its annual gadget event.
It provided the firm with the opportunity to show off a new look for its Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers, which are now spherical, instead of hockey-puck-shaped.
The new Echo line has a bright LED light ring at the base of the sphere that reflects off of surfaces ‘for added visibility’.
The new Echo also has a 3.0-inch woofer, dual-firing tweeters, and Dolby processing to deliver better stereo sound. The new Echo is priced at £90 and the smaller Echo Dot from £50.
Amazon also revealed new devices under its home security arm Ring – most notably, the Always Home Cam, which is not yet available to buy.
The new spherical Echo from Amazon boasts a bright LED light ring at the base of the sphere
Always Home Cam is a home surveillance drone that flies around your house when you’re not there and keeps an eye out for intruders.
It consists of a flying black camera, powered by rotor blades, that automatically takes off from a stationary white dock if it detects movement in the house.
The camera streams a live view of what’s going on in the user’s home to their smartphone via the Ring app, in case of unwelcome visitors.
Critics have raised privacy concerns about Ring, which is best known for its doorbell cameras, citing the company’s close relationship with police departments.
But Ring president Leila Rouhi said at the time that the company will never proactively share videos with law enforcement.
The firm stressed privacy and security ‘underpin every product, feature, and service’ it develops, including the Always Home Cam.
Also unveiled in September was Ring Car Alarm, an in-car device that sounds an alarm when a break-in or bump is detected.
AMAZON DEVICES POWERED BY ALEXA
In September 2020, Amazon released new Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers, with an entirely new spherical design and and improved audio.
The new fourth-generation Echo range switched from the original cylindrical design of the Echo range and hockey-puck design of the Echo Dot range.
Amazon Echo has switched from its original hockey puck shape to a more fetching orb shape. Pictured, Echo Dot (4th generation)
The new range has a bright LED light ring at the base of the sphere that reflects off of surfaces ‘for added visibility’, a 3.0-inch woofer, dual-firing tweeters, and Dolby processing to deliver better stereo sound.
The new Echo is currently priced at £80 and the smaller Echo Dot from £50, while a kids’ version of the Echo Dot is also available featuring a panda or tiger design.
Alternatively, users can opt for the Echo Show range – its devices that combine a camera and a screen with a smart speaker that’s powered by Alexa.
Amazon is currently offering its Echo Show 8 smart display for £100 and Echo Show 10, with a larger screen, for £240.
Since the Echo range was kicked off in 2014, it has birthed a huge range of different devices – some of which are still to be released.
In September 2019, Amazon announced the Echo Loop smart ring for users to speak into their hand, which is yet to get a full release.
Announced on the same day were Echo Frames – Alexa-powered smart glasses with tiny microphones built into the frame.
UK writer Sam Jordison called the high-tech specs a piece of ‘terrifying spyware’ and a threat to privacy, by allowing Alexa to hear and record the most personal conversations within earshot.
Echo Frames are listed on Amazon as ‘currently unavailable’.