Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Amazon updates Echo, Alexa with parental controls

An update is rolling out to Echo smart speakers and displays in Australia, that makes it possible for parents to manage what goes on.

Not kid has a smart speaker in their room, though if you’re reading this paragraph thinking “why would you do that”, we’ve found uses.

You can set up a smart speaker to play music and wake your kids up, and you can create a Bluey-based routine that lets them play Keepy Uppy whenever they want. In fact, as we’ve learned from using a smart speaker in one child’s room, they’ll start to talk to the smart speaker, and even find things you may not have known about (which is a big deal for a tech journalist).

But one thing has prevented the smart speaker from being really useful for parents, and that’s control.

Up until this week, setting up a smart speaker for kids has actually meant setting it up for adults, and hoping the kids don’t trigger things they’re not supposed to. That meant they could get songs with language you might not want them to hear, or accidentally call up questions or radio stations to things they wouldn’t understand.

In Australia, we’ve not seen a whole heap of the kid-friendly counterparts in gadgets for adults. Amazon still doesn’t have a Kindle for Kids locally, even though it offers one in the US. There are plenty of Kindle models outside it locally, but not child-friendly one in Australia yet.

But at least one more kid-friendly service has arrived this week, with the Australian Amazon switching on the Parent Dashboard with Amazon Kids for Alexa speakers. It’s an addition to Alexa-compatible speakers rolling out this week that’ll see some protections given to kids from parents, with a little bit of control in what the kids can and can’t do.

Aptly named “Kids Mode”, the addition provides a way to stop explicit songs from getting through, can apply time limits for using Alexa-enabled speakers and displays, and can even train Alexa to better recognise a child’s voice or image, the latter of which only works on smart displays with a camera built in, such as the Echo 10 smart display.

It’ll also allow parents to say which skills are supported in Kids Mode, allowing kids to trigger ABC Kids radio and even which music service you’re using, but not necessarily every skill you’ve added to speakers found inside your home. Essentially, you’ll be able to filter the skills that you want kids to have access to for each child individually.

“We’re excited to launch Amazon Kids on Alexa in Australia, joining the 20 million kids and parents around the world who are already using the service,” said Kate Gooden, Head of Product for Amazon Alexa in Australia and New Zealand.

“We can now provide Mums and Dads peace of mind in knowing that their kids are getting child-directed content, and new kid skills in an environment that parents can easily manage via our Parent Dashboard tools,” she said.

For parents keen to try, either with an Alexa-enabled speaker already or without one, you’ll have to create a profile for your kids and then assign speakers to them. Once that’s happened, each child will have a profile available either in the Amazon Alexa app or via a web browser, where settings like time limits and explicit song controls can be triggered, giving you that extra bit of parental control the system didn’t have before.

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