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Security & privacy

Warning for parents: That Echo Dot might be illegally recording your kids

Amazon’s Alexa is becoming an integral part of our homes and lifestyles. In fact, so many people have adopted Alexa into their lives that Amazon has even released a “kid’s edition” of its popular Echo Dot — bringing the virtual assistant to rooms of children across the world.

While Alexa might be useful for homework and music, the voice assistant’s penchant for logging conversations might not sit too well with parents. A recent FTC complaint lodged by consumer advocate groups addresses just that — alleging “kid’s edition” echo products are collecting voice recordings and personal information from children.

We’ve talked about Alexa’s creepy listening habits before, but this latest controversy from the digital retail giant is making parents nervous for the right reasons. It’s one thing when companies snoop on our data, but what could they possibly want from our kids?

Is Amazon listening to your kids through Alexa?

Previously, Amazon has been called out for the way that it handled stored data on its voice assistant systems. In theory, the idea is that recordings are stored in the device, sent to Amazon for transcription, and fed into the algorithm to improve Alexa’s speech recognition. This works on paper, but the ethics behind this process are questionable at best.

This is especially true when it comes to children, who are not of age to consent to complex privacy agreements that Amazon provides like adults would. By offering “child-friendly” versions of its products, Amazon is able to inflict the same data harvesting tactics that it does on adult customers.

This, for obvious reasons, has parents and consumer advocacy groups up in arms about the direction Amazon is taking its technology in. Multiple organizations have banded together to file a 96-page complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put a stop to Amazon’s data collection of children once and for all.

How do I remove my kid’s information from Alexa?

Just like with mainstream Echo products, you’ll need to sign into your Amazon account and listen to stored recordings under the account’s privacy settings. Doing this, however, disables parental controls and other features that make the device kid-friendly. This begs the question, why would Amazon even release such a product in the first place?

Amazon contends the device is in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, but stresses that data collection is necessary to improve Alexa products for future releases. This all seems a bit fishy, however, considering Amazon’s previous scuffles with controversy regarding data collection and targeted advertising.

Kids, despite not having incomes of their own, are prime advertising targets for toy, game, and apparel companies. It’s logical to assume that kids’ interaction patterns with Alexa could be a goldmine of valuable information for ad makers and marketing researchers.

It’s not the first time in history kids have been targeted (remember Joe Camel?) But it would rank among the least ethical. After all, if a kid doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of data privacy, how can they make an informed decision to participate in a service that’s listening to them.

At Komando.com, we’re going to recommend you give the Kid’s Edition Echo Dot a pass until the FTC complaint pans out. We don’t know the full consequences yet, and it’s better to keep your kids safe than to let them be guinea pigs for corporate marketers.

Not to mention, I think any adult would get sick of seeing toy and video game ads on every banner they see online.

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