Amazon is expanding one it most popular products to the tiniest of consumers. They have just released a new candy-colored kid friendly version of Alexa known as Echo Dot Kids Edition. It is nearly identical to Alexa except the functions particularly target children. Also know as “Freetime on Alexa”, this device gives children access to more than 300 children audio books, family radio stations, and trivia games from companies like Disney and National Geographic.
Growing up I always wanted to play outside until the streetlights came on. Nowadays after school children are attached to technology, going straight to their Ipads and X-boxes to use apps like Youtube and Facebook. In a world where face to face interaction is being replaced by computer screens and social apps, do we really need another device that will distract children from the real world? While I do not believe children need anymore technological forms of entertainment, I do acknowledge both the pros and cons of this new device.
First of all, Alexa now aims at teaching politeness, which is a function parents have been asking for for a while. The original Alexa got a lot of negative feedback from parents who were concerned that the act of rudely commanding Alexa to do something sends out the wrong message to young children. This new feature shows how Amazon is directly answering to their concerns. While this answers one problem, it creates another by humanizing machines.
Secondly, Freetime on Alexa also provides a safer and more controlled access to entertainment for children. I couldn’t tell you how many times my younger brother “accidentally” downloaded $100 worth of games or music in a single day. These new controls allow parents to block voice purchases, filter explicit songs, set alarms and choose what skills of Alexa their children have access too. Last but not least, the parent is able to see all questions asked by the child, which unfortunately means Amazon does too. The use of this product allows Amazon to create an individualized profile of children long before they even know themselves. This is the same type of privacy intrusion that made people angry with social medias such as Facebook and Instagram.
Lastly, Freetime on Alexa is a great kid friendly resource tool. If you ask the original Alexa how many planets there are she would just answer nine. However if you ask Freetime on Alexa, she will list all nine planets and explain that Pluto is a dwarf planet. If asked “Where do babies come from” Freetime on Alexa answers “people make people, but how they are mad would be a better question for a grown up”. While the answers Alexa gives to children are accurate and educational, it takes away the chance for children to learn on their own. Freetime on Alexa gives them instant gratification for their curiosities, which may harm them later in life when they are told they have to read actual books and explore long articles. Executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy claims “Amazon is acting irresponsibly by urging parents to unleash an Al-driven Alexa product into their children’s lives, without first ensuring that it will not harm their cognitive and emotional development.”
In conclusion I’d prefer my children be playing with other children and having social interactions with real people rather than Alexa. However in this day and age, it is inevitable that they will end up on some type of technology for entertainment. Keeping that in mind, I believe Freetime on Alexa is a great source of entertainment for children.
By Nadia Joseph