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FTC loosens guidelines to let kids use voice commands

"Alexa, we won't take legal action."
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
October 24, 2017
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Nicole Lee / Engadget

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act bars companies from collecting audio recordings from kids under 13 without their parents' permission. However, that raises concerns about voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri or Google Assistant: is it legal for under-13s to use voice commands, given that there's rarely (if ever) a permanent recording to put them at risk? According to the Federal Trade Commision, the answer is yes... within limits. The agency has stated that it won't pursue enforcement action against companies simply because they let kids issue voice commands. So long as the firms only hold on to recordings for a brief moment and use them solely for voice commands, they'll usually be in the clear.

The restrictions pop up when companies start asking for sensitive info or otherwise venture outside of those above-mentioned boundaries. COPPA still applies when companies ask for names and other personal data, and they have to outline how they collect, use and delete audio in their privacy policies. And as you might expect, companies can only use recordings for personal info if they want to avoid running afoul of regulations.

The change prevents companies from treating children exactly the same as they would adults, but it's still a big deal for anyone making voice assistants and the smart speakers that use them. They don't have to require parents' permission before pre-teens are allowed to use these assistants, or prevent that younger audience from using the voice helpers altogether. The FTC's main challenge is ensuring that companies don't try to misuse this newfound freedom and collect more data than they should.

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