“Alexa, play One Direction.”
“What’s the magic word?”
Amazon introduced three parent-friendly offerings today, April 25, aimed at making the experience of using its Echo speakers and Alexa voice assistant a little more kid-appropriate, and perhaps making kids a little more polite.
The retail company introduced a new function which is free for any Echo device owners to activate, called “FreeTime on Alexa.” It includes a litany of filters and commands designed just for kids interacting with Alexa that will also make it easier for parents to keep tabs on their children’s digital activity.
Parents can now set limits on how much their kids use Echoes, limiting their use at night when kids are supposed to be sleeping or during homework or dinner time. Parents can also turn off any Alexa skill they don’t want their children to use, block it from playing songs with explicit lyrics, and keep it from buying things off Amazon without a parent’s consent. There’s also a function called Activity Review that will allow parents to see what their kids are doing with their Echoes, and listen to the recordings of their commands.
Parents can also now turn on the “Magic Word” function, which will suggest kids to use the word “please” in their commands to Alexa and reinforce positive behavior. This addresses a concern that many parents have had with Echo. They’ve felt the devices have been conditioning their kids to be rude by not asking the assistant questions politely, instead incessantly barking at a disembodied female voice and implicitly learning that that’s an acceptable way to act towards people.
Amazon also introduced another tier of children’s content that it’s calling “FreeTime Unlimited.” It has everything the standard FreeTime option has, but includes 300 Audible audiobooks for kids, ad-free radio stations from iHeartRadio, and skills designed for kids by Nickelodeon, Disney, and National Geographic. Kids can also be woken up by alarms featuring the voices of some of their favorite Nickelodeon and Disney characters, although it’s not clear how effective Mickey or SpongeBob might be at getting kids out of bed. This service will cost $3 per month for Amazon Prime subscribers.
Amazon also announced a new version of its diminutive Echo Dot speaker designed for kids, which it’s unsurprisingly calling the Echo Dot Kids Edition, which will launch on May 9. This version comes with a sturdy case, a two-year guarantee, a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, and will cost $80. (A regular Echo Dot costs $50.)
Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested that FreeTime mode would require kids to say please, when in fact it will merely suggest it, and reinforce good behavior. It will still complete commands where kids do not say please.