The questions come from two US lawmakers and a group of children’s advocates in a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and a press release warning parents away from the product. The concerns come as the tech industry faces increasing scrutiny for its data collection practices. Echo Dot Kids Edition uses a platform called FreeTime to make the Alexa virtual assistant child-friendly.
In the letter, Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, asked 12 questions about how the company collects children’s data with Echo Dot Kids, whether parents can delete records of interactions with the product and whether Amazon consulted child development experts as they created the product.
The lawmakers are concerned about the possibility of Amazon accessing and storing private recordings and other information about children. “There is also increasing concern about the effects of digital media and technology use among children and teens,” Markey and Barton wrote.
In a statement, Amazon said it had received the letter and was working directly with lawmakers to answer the questions. “Amazon takes privacy and security seriously, and FreeTime on Alexa is no different,” it said.
Amazon further said that it gives parents the ability to delete children’s recordings from the device as well as the company’s servers, and that developers outside of Amazon are prohibited from accessing the recordings. The device only records after hearing the “wake word” that turns on the microphone. “Further, customers can press the mute button on the top of the device, which electrically disconnects the microphones,” the company said in its statement. “This is by hardware design: no power = no audio in.”
In addition, the device complies with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Amazon said.
Amazon also pointed to a statement from the Family Online Safety Institute in support of the Echo Dot Kids Edition. Amazon head of digital devices and services Sarah Hudgins is a member of the organization’s board.
“In our latest research report, FOSI found that the majority of parents were comfortable with their child using a smart speaker,” the organization said in a statement, “and by making this service available, Amazon is creating another safe, kid-friendly experience for families.” The research cited has Amazon’s logo at the top, where it says, “Supported by: Amazon.”
In its press release timed with the publication of the lawmaker’s letter, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood described the product in harsher terms.
“Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, in the release.
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