Amazon's Echo Dot and its accompanying version of Alexa for kids called FreeTime raised eyebrows and questions about children's privacy from the start. Now, Sen. Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts) and Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) want to know what the e-commerce giant is doing to ensure the privacy of kids who use the speaker and the voice assistant. The lawmakers have penned a letter to Amazon asking if kids' interactions with the speaker are saved and shared with third parties. They also want to know if the company worked with child development experts when they designed the device.
The tech giant answered some of the lawmakers' concerns in a statement, telling CNET that "Amazon takes privacy and security seriously, and FreeTime on Alexa is no different." It explained that parents have the ability to delete children's recordings not only from the device, but also from its servers, and that no developers outside the company can access them. Also, the speaker will only record sounds when it hears the specified "wake word," which switches on the mic -- parents can press the mute button at the top of the speaker to prevent that from happening, as well.
If you ask the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood group, though, those responses are nowhere near enough. Its Executive Director, Josh Golin, said "Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night." He described the Echo Dot Kids as "another unnecessary 'must-have' gadget" that's potentially harmful. Further, he said AI devices "interfere with the face-to-face interactions and self-driven play that children need to thrive."
Due to various high-profile hacks and data leaks in recent years, such as Facebook's Cambridge Analytica fiasco, people are now more conscious of their data privacy. The letter and CCFC's statement don't really come as a surprise, especially since the device in question was designed for children. Amazon said it's working with the lawmakers to answer all their questions, which they have to provide in full by June 1st.