June 14, 2019
Amazon debuted a new version of its Echo Dot Kids Edition and several notable changes to its FreeTime Unlimited subscription service for children’s content. The new Echo Dot for children offers a new fabric case, including two colors — blue and rainbow stripes — both not available for the adult version. It is 70 percent louder than the first version, as is the new Echo Dot. The new Kids Edition will begin shipping June 26 for $69.99, $10 less than the first Kids Edition and will include access to FreeTime Unlimited for one year.
Variety reports that Amazon’s subscription service Freetime Unlimited “promises access to more than 1,000 children’s audio books from Audible, as well as books and games that can be accessed on tablets and other devices with a screen.” The service also provides parental controls, allowing adults to “monitor device usage, and block access at certain times.” Amazon also added Alexa skills to Freetime from “Disney and Sony as well as kids podcasts from NPR and Gimlet Media.”
When the first Echo Dot Kids was launched, Amazon was excoriated by “a consortium of consumer rights and privacy advocacy groups,” which filed a complaint with the FCC last year stating, “the collection of voice recordings from minors violated privacy and child protection laws.”
Upon the launch of the second version of Echo Dot Kids, Amazon stressed it is now compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and that the Alexa skills available “wouldn’t have access to personal identifiable information.” Parents will also be able to delete voice recordings through the Alexa Privacy Hub.
Bloomberg describes Bamboo Learning, a startup focusing on educational voice software, founded by Irina Fine and former Amazon executive Ian Freed. Their goal, said Freed, is “to build a company that is the leader in voice-powered education.” The company has released three Alexa skills: “short lessons and quizzes on music theory, math and reading.” A fourth, just-released skill is storybooks, in partnership with the magazine Highlights for Children.
Advocates of voice technology are busy educating the educators about the use of such devices in the classroom.
But Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, isn’t persuaded. “So much of what’s happening in the ed tech space is being driven by this notion that we have to use more technology, and newer technologies, in our classrooms … there’s very little evaluation that takes place prior to the adoption of these technologies. If I was a principal or a curriculum director, what I would want to understand is how is this going to help me teach kids more effectively and efficiently.”
Lawsuits Claim Amazon’s Alexa Records Kids Without Their Consent, CNET, 6/13/19