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Amazon Childproofs Echo Speakers, add age-appropriate audio content



Amazon.com
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is focusing on a new niche for Echo speakers: children's bedrooms and games rooms.

As of May 9, a free air update is established to allow owners of Echo's talking speakers to activate the FreeTime configuration, which blocks certain functions, adds new controls and transforms artificially intelligent Alexa from a virtual assistant to virtual nanny

While most Echo speakers are kept in common areas like the kitchen, millions of homes have multiple Echos, says Amazon. As they migrate more and more to the bedrooms, even to children's bedrooms, the new controls are the key.

Parents may apply controls to certain Echo speakers from within the Alexa application. They can set a bedtime, after which Alexa will not make any requests. They can deactivate the purchase of voice and filter explicit lyrics of Amazon Music. They can pass certain skills (Alexa applications) for the device, yes, SAT Word of the Day; No, Mr. Bartender. (Skills associated with transactions, such as Uber or Domino's) are not allowed. And although the domestic intercom function still works, children can not send messages or make calls to destinations outside the home.

In FreeTime mode, Alexa has the same friendly voice, but offers longer answers to educational questions. ("How many planets are there?" "Who is Harry Potter?") Makes jokes and songs favorable to children, praises children who say "please" and replies "Alexa, I'm bored."

The science fiction version of this would be a system that recognizes who the speaker, child or adult is, and then pronounces an appropriate response. But not only the technology behind such a feat is quite complicated, it could create a strange logistics: if you go into your daughter's room and ask her to play music, she could play your favorites instead of her.

The biggest competitor of the Echo,

Alphabet
Inc. & # 39; s

Google Home has limited content filtering of music and video from YouTube and Google Play.

Apple
Inc. & # 39; s

HomePod newer, a device focused on music, can filter songs with explicit lyrics.

Parents who already subscribe to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited service will be able to display premium content on FreeTime-enabled Echo speakers, including interactive trivia games, children's games, audible audiobooks, and age-appropriate ad-free music broadcasts.

On Wednesday, the company began selling a $ 80 Echo Dot Kids Edition speaker, which is sent on May 9 when services are released. Like the Kids Edition Fire Edition tablet, this Dot comes with a quilted case, a year of FreeTime Unlimited and a worry-free, worry-free two-year replacement warranty. (The standard Echo Dot lists cost $ 50 and are often sold for less.)

It was only a matter of time before Amazon introduced the parental controls as a point of sale. Not long after Amazon introduced the speaker Echo and her genius Alexa a few years ago, stories of children doing adorable and horrifying things emerged.

Some parents may still be uneasy about putting an Amazon speaking device in their children's room. But as of May 9, this update could alleviate the guilt of many parents who have already granted their children's desire to have an Echo in their room.

In this era of privacy concerns, when we debated the wisdom of placing smart microphones around our home room, at least this puts a bit of limit when the thing is listening and how much it can do.

On the other hand, for Amazon, that's the kind of reasoning that will make this investment worthwhile: parents who were against putting that microphone in said bedroom can no longer be so anxious.

Write to Wilson Rothman at Wilson.Rothman@wsj.com

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