Every once in a while, a story involving kids and Alexa or Google Assistant smart speakers hits the news cycle. These stories are often lighthearted, but occasionally they take a nasty turn. Should we let kids use smart speakers?
The Internet at Their Request
If you have young kids, you probably don’t give them full unrestricted access to the internet. That makes perfect sense and it’s the smart thing to do. However, people don’t typically think of smart speakers in the same way.
A smart speaker or smart display is not as different from a web browser as you might think. Rather than entering a search term with your keyboard, you’re using your voice. Instead of being able to browse from a few results, Google or Alexa reads the first one out loud.
That’s what happened to a 10-year old girl who asked Alexa for a challenge. Alexa proceeded to instruct her to plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs. Yikes.
Thankfully, the young girl was smart enough not to do that, but it shows the risks. Alexa was simply reciting information from a web search. Virtual assistants are not the all-knowing experts that they appear to be. It’s just the internet presented with a voice.
Privacy Concerns Regardless of Age
Smart speakers and similar devices have many well-documented privacy concerns. Those concerns don’t only apply to adults, of course. People assume that smart speakers are listening to them all the time. While that’s technically true, it doesn’t work how you think.
Adults are able to set up their own accounts and accept the privacy trade-offs that come with these smart assistants. To a degree, you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Kids, on the other hand, don’t have any idea what they’ve “signed up” for.
Google or Amazon can start building a profile about what your kid likes before they’re even old enough to use a computer. That’s easy for the companies to do if you’ve already set up an account on your kid’s behalf.
What Can You Do?
So it’s clear smart speakers and displays may not be the safest things for kids to use, but there are tools at your disposal to mitigate the risks. Google and Amazon could do a lot better at this, but they’ve at least got some solutions.
Google Assistant-enabled devices have a handful of parental controls. You can limit what times of days kids can interact with the devices and set up content filters for videos, music, and more.
Amazon has “Kids Edition” Echo devices that include parental controls as well. If you have a standard Echo, you can convert it to a “Kids Edition” at any point after purchasing it. This is great if you’ve already invested in a few Echo devices around your home.
At the end of the day, smart speakers are simply another entry point to the vastness of the internet. Be mindful of that when you let your kids have access to these devices.
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