Allowing smart speakers into the family - should parents be concerned?

Allowing smart speakers into the family - should parents be concerned?

As parents, our juggling abilities are often put to the test. Even as pro-multitaskers we sometimes find ourselves wishing we had a third arm. Luckily, advancements in technology brought us smart speakers, allowing us to perform various tasks hands-free. They offer a ton of convenience acting as our personal assistants. Need to text your mom but your left hand is stirring the pasta sauce while your right hand is feeding the baby? No problem, just ask your smart speaker!

However, if you find yourself wondering if it's safe for these advanced data collecting technologies to be around your children, we don’t blame you. We’ve all been there before; seen the constant reports of data breaches, received uncomfortably specific ads, and caught our smart speaker activating without our command. You are not alone in your suspicions: 52% of users are concerned about their privacy, and say they find it creepy that their smart speakers are constantly listening. 

You may be asking: Should I let my kids use smart speakers? What kind of privacy risks do they bring into my home? We are here to answer your questions about smart speakers and your children’s privacy so you can make the right decision for your family.  

How they work 

First, it is important to understand how your smart speaker works. As explained in our previous article (link), the foundation of the technology behind smart speakers is artificial intelligence (AI). Essentially, your voice recordings and interactions teach the AI through a process called machine learning. This process occurs on the company’s server. Your smart speaker acts as an input-output machine, sending your command to the servers, and relaying it’s answer back to you. The basic goal of machine learning is to improve the AI’s ability to recognize and understand your voice, and its ability to execute the appropriate response. Every time you or anyone in your family interacts with your device, it gets a little smarter, learning how to better serve you.  

The draw backs

It's not all innocent, however. Companies use this information to build profiles about you and your household, then sell those profiles to other companies in order to send you targeted advertisements. Furthermore, past data breaches and privacy incidences have caused concern from users on how companies handle user data, such as having human employees review voice recordings and selling to third parties. 

For more information, read our article, Inside the minds of voice assistants.  

Children as consumers  

Kids are young, and impressionable - over 75% of children aged 8-11 are unable to distinguish advertising from other forms of content. The thought of our children’s information being collected like our own is undeniably more unsettling. We want to protect our kids at all costs and it does not stop with online privacy. Luckily, there are some regulations in place, such as COPPA.  

What is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)? 

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, commonly referred to as COPPA, is a federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commision (FTC). It gives parents control over what kind of data companies can collect on their children. One aspect of this law is that it prevents companies from collecting and using data from kids under the age of 13 without parental consent.  

What can I personally do to protect my children’s online privacy around smart speakers? 

1. Start with a discussion: Establishing strong online privacy and security in the home is no different than any other aspect of parenting. Continue educating yourself on online privacy and how to protect it and have a discussion with your family. Decide what online practices you feel comfortable with as a family, sharing your values, standards, and boundaries of online privacy. Teach your children about why they should value their online privacy and guide them on how to interact with the internet while protecting themselves. 

2. Make your smart speaker family-friendly: COPPA prohibits your smart speaker from knowingly tracking your kids but can only be enforced if you set up individual profiles for your kids. This will limit the type of information the company can store about your children. There are also various parental controls available that limit the usage of smart speakers by children. These controls differ by products and brands so investigate your speaker’s settings today.  

3. Complete our checklist: We created a free checklist for you to complete to get started right away. It contains 7 easy simple tasks you can start today to improve your family's online privacy. Click on the link below to download our checklist.

7 easy ways to improve your digital privacy 

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