Amazon.com's Alexa has a little something to teach your kids about manners. After receiving feedback from some parents concerned about how voice assistants are affecting their kids' attitudes, the company updated Alexa to reward children who ask for things nicely.
Kids are some of the biggest fans of voice assistants, with some learning to talk to Alexa, Apple's Siri or Google's Assistant before they can form full sentences. But some parents have worried that having voice assistants around the house will make their children more rude, since the youngsters can bark demands for a favorite television station or song at any time.
Amazon heard from parents in comments on its products that they wanted a way to teach etiquette while using the voice assistant, the company said in statement. The company then spoke to child development experts about the best way for Alexa to do that.
(Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post)
The answer they came up with was positive reinforcement. You won't hear Alexa ask, for example, “What's the magic word?” if a child doesn't say “please.” Instead, it will thank a child for asking nicely if he or she remembers to slip in that oh-so-important “magic” word.
The update comes as the company is expanding its efforts to woo children as part of its smart-home push. Amazon also announced on Wednesday that it has made an $80 child-focused version of its Echo Dot speaker, which has durable, candy-colored cases, and that it is adding parental controls to the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus to help limit when a child can interact with the technology. Additionally, Amazon added to its FreeTime Unlimited service, with kid-focused Alexa content, including kid-friendly skills developed by companies such as Disney and Nickelodeon. Existing subscribers get that additional content for free. A new subscription starts at $2.99 per month for Prime members.
Children have become a key demographic for Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft as the companies move deeper into the home with smart speakers and strive to make their particular voice assistant a central part of the household.
The strategy has raised concerns among some privacy advocates, such as the Center for Digital Democracy, about new avenues for data collection. They hope companies will continue to respect a child's right to privacy. Children are one of the only groups of people in the United States protected by privacy law and Amazon said it is compliant. Companies have dealt with those limitations by setting different rules to the many voice assistant programs designed for children, requiring parents to sign off on their children using certain apps. But it hasn't slowed down development of those programs.