Child safety experts have issued a warning over a new Amazon smart speaker aimed at children.
The voice-controlled Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition was announced only a few days ago, but it’s already been dubbed “worrying” by campaigners.
Amazon’s new gadget works just like all of its other Echo speakers.
You can ask a digital assistant called Alexa questions, get her to play music, listen to stories or the radio and control smart home gadgets.
It works using far-field microphones that listen out for the “wake word,” which is Alexa.
Once you say “Alexa” aloud, the Echo will record what you say, send the question over to Amazon’s systems, work out an answer and then respond to you — all in a matter of seconds.
But an NSPCC spokesperson told The Sun that giving this sort of gadget to a child could be dangerous.
“Technology can be great for children in helping them learn, but putting devices that are always on like Alexa in our children’s bedrooms raises worrying questions about how and what they will record,” they said.
Amazon maintains that the Echo smart speakers don’t record everything you say out loud.
And when it’s listening in, you’ll see a blue ring on top of the speaker.
But Amazon Echo speakers have been hacked in the past, raising questions over whether it’s appropriate to put one in your kid’s room.
In August last year, British security researcher Mark Barnes revealed how hackers could install malware on Echo speakers.
This would let snoopers silently stream audio from a hacked device, recording everything someone says out loud.
The speaker would effectively become an always-on wiretap.
And earlier this week, researchers at cybersecurity firm Checkmarx found a similar exploit that turned the Echo into an eavesdropping device.
This didn’t even involve using a hole in Amazon’s Alexa systems.
Instead, researchers used Amazon’s own development software to create an Alexa app that posed as a calculator.
If a user installed the fake calculator, it would secretly record everything anyone nearby said out loud.
That’s why even though Amazon says the new Echo Dot Kids Edition may have additional “Amazon FreeTime” parental controls, it may not be enough to soothe privacy concerns — especially when children are involved.
“Parental controls are good but they could lull parents into a false sense of security, so we need to understand what the controls are and what protection they would actually give,” an NSPCC spokesperson told The Sun.
“As children could innocently give Alexa lots of information about themselves. There are also concerns about what security measures Amazon will have in place.”
Amazon allows parents who own the Echo Dot Kids Edition to turn off certain features, like news and shopping.
And you can also deny access to skills created by people other than Amazon.
In a statement given to The Sun, Amazon said: “Amazon takes privacy and security seriously and FreeTime on Alexa is no different. Just like on other Echo devices, Echo Dot Kids Edition (available in the US) is only listening for the wake word Alexa and then she will start streaming the request to the cloud to process it.”
“Parents can access all their children’s voice recordings in the Alexa app and delete them individually or all at once. They can also choose to press the mute button to disconnect the microphones electronically.”
Amazon also maintains that it works very hard on security to prevent hackers gaining access to Alexa systems. Amazon told The Sun that it “limits the information” it discloses about security publicly, but said that it “takes customer security seriously.”
“We have full teams dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of our products. We have taken measures to make Echo secure.”
“These include disallowing third-party application installation on the device, rigorous security reviews, secure software development requirements and encryption of communication between Echo, the Alexa App and Amazon servers.”
The Echo Dot Kids Edition is currently only available in the US.
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