Those with an Amazon Echo device in their homes have likely already exposed their children to Alexa. Now, Amazon wants to give kids the opportunity to turn Alexa into their friend with the new Echo Dot Kids Edition. The hockey puck-like smart speaker doesn’t look too different from the original Dot, but it comes with new “Amazon FreeTime” content that gives kids new ways to interact with Alexa and parents more control over those interactions.
New parental controls and FreeTime Unlimited subscription coming soon, too.
The $79 Echo Dot Kids Edition takes the original device’s design and wraps it in a kid-friendly, colorful case. Otherwise, the hardware is the same as the tiny smart speaker that debuted in 2016. While the regular, $49 Dot is considered a more affordable and accessible version of the Echo speaker, the Kids Edition costs more thanks to its bundled software. Amazon includes a two-year warranty plus a one-year subscription to the new Amazon FreeTime Unlimited service, an expanded version of Amazon’s new FreeTime for Alexa.
FreeTime gives users “family-focused features” and new parental controls that adults can use to restrict what their kids can do with Alexa. Family features include “Education Q&A,” allowing kids to ask Alexa science, math, spelling, and definition questions, “Alexa Speaks ‘Kid,’” which gives Alexa kid-appropriate answers to nebulous statements that kids may say, such as “Alexa, I’m bored.” Parents can also limit the times during which kids can speak to Alexa (like no talking to it after bedtime), restrict the skills kids can use, filter out songs with explicit lyrics, and more.
All of those features with FreeTime for Alexa will be available for free for Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus users through an over-the-air update that’s coming on May 9. Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited builds on those free features with exclusive content that Prime members can pay $2.99 per month to access. FreeTime is geared toward kids, so most content is family-friendly, including 300 Audible books that Alexa can read to children, ad-free stations and playlists from iHeartRadio that are also kid-friendly, and “premium skills” from partners including Disney and Nickelodeon that offer more ways that children can interact with Alexa.
Alexa, kids, and privacy
Amazon isn’t new to making devices for kids. The company already makes kid-friendly Fire tablets that give parents more affordable and durable alternatives to iPads. Introducing an Echo for kids makes sense considering the growing popularity of Alexa in the home and the likelihood that many kids have already been exposed to Alexa thanks to smart speakers their parents have purchased.
Plenty of kid-focused skills exist in the vast Alexa skills library already, but offering more children’s content gives both parents and kids new motivation to bring Alexa into their homes. While kids will likely be excited for Disney-provided stories and National Geographic voice games, parents will be happy that they will soon be able to restrict their children’s access to Alexa. Consumers have been pushing for better parental controls across many platforms, like iOS and iPhone.
But even with the added parental controls, some will be wary of a speaker designed to listen to their children. Like the original Dot, the Kids Edition has a mute button, and parents can put the device in “sleep mode” to prevent it from responding to commands. However, the mic will always be listening for its wake-word, just like other Echo devices.
In the new Parent Dashboard in the Alexa app and online, parents can monitor how kids are using their Echos (including viewing all their utterances, or the phrases Alexa thinks it heard before trying to respond) and limit the device’s abilities. According to a Buzzfeed report, Amazon claims it isn’t making back-end profiles for users with data harvested from Alexa. While the virtual assistant can now recognize voices and provide personalized answers based on who’s talking, the company maintains that data is only being used to make Alexa smarter and more tailored to each user.
That’s an important distinction to make considering the problems Facebook and Google have dealt with recently. Amazon continues to push the idea that the company isn’t interested in using Alexa-collected user data for marketing purposes. As for skills developers, Amazon claims it only shares “what they need to execute on the skills.” Even so, some will still be concerned about placing an always-listening speaker in their kids’ bedroom.
The new Echo Dot Kids Edition will begin shipping on May 9.