Amazon's release of Echo Dot Kids has been met with resistance from concerned individuals and organizations, which claim that it might be harmful to children.
Amazon believes otherwise, but according to experts, parents should think twice about buying one for their children.
Security And Privacy Concerns
"The Echo Dot Kids is another unnecessary 'must-have' gadget, and it's also potentially harmful," said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "AI devices raise a host of privacy concerns and interfere with the face-to-face interactions and self-driven play that children need to thrive."
Jeff Chester of Center for Digital Democracy added that promoting an AI product for children without making sure that it will not harm their development is an irresponsible move on Amazon's part. He claims that Amazon Echo, among other technologies in the same vein, is designed to promote brands and Echo Dot Kids is no different.
Even lawmakers have expressed their concerns to Amazon, asking if it stores the kids' interactions with Echo Dot and shares it with third parties. The recent fiasco involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has placed everybody on high alert over data privacy concerns, and it is only amplified when children are taken into the equation.
Amazon has since responded, insisting that it takes these matters very seriously. It claims to adhere to the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act" and that the information is stored on servers that developer can't access. Parents can also delete the data from the device and from the server permanently.
Potential Harm To Emotional Development
Privacy, however, is not the only concern of lawmakers and advocates. According to Dr. Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, children who immerse themselves too much in digital technologies compromise their emotional growth, and an AI-powered assistant is the least that could help that.
"When we encourage children to form faux-relationships with devices, we undermine their ability to form healthy relationships with people," she said.
The Echo Dot Kids has features that can make a kid heavily rely on the device. Kids can say, "Alexa, I'm bored," and the voice assistant will respond with games and other entertainment.
Jenny, Radesky, MD, specifically has concerns about this feature, as she claims that being bored is vital for the child's development.
"It forces them to use their creative thinking skills to figure out what to do next - not be told what to do or think by a parent or a device - and it also gives children practice in tolerating their own (albeit mild) distress," she said.
Amazon is not the only company that has been scrutinized by lawmakers, parents, and experts. Mattel planned to release an Echo-like device for children, but it scrapped its plans after it had also drawn criticisms.