Are smart speakers safe for children?

October 6, 2020 Published by

 

The convenience of smart speakers is something that attracts everyone and they have proven particularly popular with children. This is somewhat unsurprising, as talking to a computer and having it talk back to you is pretty exciting!

There are countless benefits to using these devices, including keeping your family organised and staying connected in an increasingly distanced world.

But in a time when we are sharing information more easily than ever, it is important to be aware of how to keep your family safe when using them.

 

Here are three key things to consider and tips on how you can help make your smart speaker safe for your children:

 

When is a smart speaker listening?

As the way in which these devices work is by listening for commands (which can be very helpful), it also means they are absorbing the conversation around them of both adults and children.

It is important to consider that information could possibly be shared or hacked – there has been discussion over the ethics of these companies collecting the data (even if it is encrypted) and who can access it.

 

Tips:

  • Although the purpose of the voice assistant is for convenience, at times it might be better to have the device muted if you don’t intend to use it. This will stop it picking up anything you don’t want heard. Check your manual to find out how to do this (it’s likely there is a physical switch on your speaker).
  • If your child has a friend round, it is also worth checking their parent’s stance on using this kind of technology as not everyone is comfortable with devices that might capture their child’s data. You can mute or unplug the device if they are unhappy with their child using it.
  • Use strong and well-protected passwords – don’t use the same password across multiple accounts and devices, as this makes you and your family much easier to hack. This includes changing the default password on your WiFi hub.

 

 

What can my child access through a smart speaker?

Smart speakers connect to the internet, which is a big part of why they can be so helpful. However, it is worth considering that this makes the internet very accessible, so it is important to make sure that your child is not accidentally exposed to something harmful.

This is where parental safety settings are great, as they can make sure that inappropriate or explicit content is filtered out so your child can’t easily access it.

 

Tips:

  • Have a look at the child versions of devices that are available – the Amazon Echo, for example, comes in a child’s edition which is ready-loaded with parental controls.
  • Make sure to turn off voice purchasing, as the last thing you want is your bank account taking a hammering from accidental commands and purchases!
  • Just as you would with surfing the internet on a computer or mobile device, it’s important to teach your child safe internet practices. Use the smart speaker together, at least to start with, and keep it in a shared space so you can keep an eye on what content they are interacting with.

 

 

What if my child spends too much time playing with the smart speaker?

If introduced too young, there is a concern that interacting constantly with a device might change their interactions with people, for example, becoming more familiar with giving commands rather than kindly requesting others to do things!

The technology is still very new so we don’t know how real this risk might be, but even so, too much of anything usually has consequences.

The key here is balance – your child should have plenty of time to play and interact with their peers and other adults so they learn to communicate with others.

 

Tips:

  • It is also worth reminding children that while ‘Alexa’ doesn’t mind if they are rude, parents, teachers and friends do.
  • ‘Do not disturb’ modes can also stop notifications chiming around the house at all hours and distracting your children from other important things such as homework, chores, relaxation and sleep.
  • As with other technology, sit down and agree some ground rules with your child about how they should use the smart speaker before they start using it.

 

 

Summary

While smart speakers are exciting and have a whole host of fun and helpful benefits for the whole family, it is important to consider the risks of these internet-based devices and do your research.

Finding out what privacy settings are available on your chosen smart speaker, whether there are accounts you can set up specifically for children, or if you can buy a child friendly version of the speaker, can help you make the right choice for your family and put your mind at ease.

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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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