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VG Tuesday Tips: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Smart Speaker for the Family

  Virtual Graffiti

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As of 2019, smart speaker users numbered 74.2 million in the US, 12.6 million in the UK, 11.7 million in Germany, 7.6 million in France and 5.8 million in Canada (including children), according to Business Insider.

If you use one, or might buy one for your family, here are some things to think about:

Privacy and data collection. Smart speakers can do anything from turn off your lights to read your kids a story. But they are also always “listening” to conversations. Once a smart speaker hears its trigger word, it starts recording the conversation. The audio files are uploaded to the cloud, so it can learn better how to understand and help you in the future. That information “in the cloud” could be used by third parties and might be vulnerable to data breaches.

Some smart speakers allow you to listen to and even delete these conversations.

Read the terms and conditions to understand how much data your device collects, view and edit your privacy settings on your product’s page/ app.

Unauthorized purchases. Since smart speakers can be used to buy things or add items on your shopping list, make sure kids know to ask for permission before doing so. You can also prevent unwanted purchases by editing settings in each device’s apps and adding a PIN for this action.

Calling. All smart speakers let you make phone calls; kids can call friends or even strangers without your knowledge. Check and edit your contact lists shared with the voice assistant and teach children when it’s ok and when it’s not ok to use this feature.

Content. Children enjoy interacting with voice assistants and parents are happy with this screen-free entertainment and learning alternative for them. But “no screen” doesn’t mean content purely for kids. Think about songs with explicit lyrics or answers to questions that children are not necessarily ready to hear or understand (at least not from a device).

Check if your voice assistant offers parental controls and, if so, enable them. The device will recognize your kid’s voice, and return kid-friendly results.

Social risks. Child-development experts and sociologists warn about the impact on kids of internation with AI.

“Young kids likely view these devices very differently than adults do,” says Rachel Severson, a child psychologist at the University of Montana. “They may attribute human characteristics to the device, thinking that Alexa has feelings and emotions. Some kids may even think there’s an actual woman inside the device. That’s exactly what one little boy, age 4, told us about his Alexa — that she was a person who lived in an apartment outside his window. And he loved her.”

Specialists recommend that parents engage in and guide children in their relationships with smart speakers so they learn that there’s a big difference between interactions and communications with humans and those with devices.

Last but not least, even time spent with voice assistants should be limited because the child’s “interaction is still impoverished compared to talking to a parent or teacher,” Severson says.

Any time you introduce new technology into your home, it’s adviseable to teach your kids how to use it to stay safe.