Lawmakers Worried About Smart Speakers Designed For Kids Send Letter To Amazon’s Bezos

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

U.S. lawmakers worried about an Amazon smart speaker designed for children sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking about its capabilities.

The Amazon Echo Kids Edition is aimed to give parents control of what the device can do and offers “family-focused features such as explicit song filtering, bedtime limits, educational Q&A, household communications, positive reinforcement for using the word ‘please,’ disabled voice purchasing, and more.” The latter asset appears critical after a 6-year-old girl ordered an expensive dollhouse and cookies through her parent’s credit card synced Amazon Echo Dot.

There are still parts of the technology that lawmakers and portions of the public don’t fully understand, causing privacy concerns at a time when such anxiety is seemingly intensifying.

“While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new education and entertainment opportunities, Americans’ privacy, particularly children’s privacy, must be paramount,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas wrote in a joint letter Thursday addressed to Bezos. “There is also increasing concern about the effects of digital media and technology use among children and teens. We write to seek information about how Amazon plans to protect the privacy of children who use Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and what steps the company is taking to ensure that using this product will not negatively affect children’s development.” (RELATED: Smart Speakers And Their Privacy Concerns)

The elected officials enumerated a number of questions for Amazon’s Bezos to answer, like what third parties have potential access to data stockpiled by the listening speaker and “within what range of distance can” it “transmit and record the spoken voice of children.”

Facebook tabled in March the release of a slate of products over privacy concerns, including its own proprietary smart speaker. It went back to the drawing board to ensure it has addressed all possible areas of consumer apprehensiveness.

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