Turning on the radio play for the child, coordinating the appointments of family members while preparing dinner or ordering the groceries for the weekend by voice – all this has already become part of everyday life for some families with the arrival of so-called voice assistants. They are called Alexa, Siri or simply Google and are used via smartphone or directly via speaker. More and more children are learning how to use them from an early age. Using Alexa as an example, we explain what’s behind it and what you should watch out for.
The digital voice assistants work like intelligent speakers with an integrated microphone. You address them with a keyword like “Alexa” or “Echo” and then say what you would like, for example: “Alexa, play my favorite music!”. This command is transmitted via the Internet. To do this, the voice assistants must be connected to other devices or applications, such as music streaming services, be connected. The spoken words reach the provider via WLAN or Bluetooth to implement the command. Alexa or another voice assistant also responds by “she” answering questions, for example.
This is possible because voice assistants bring home multiple speakers with microphones. Alexa listens to you 24 hours, day and night. What happens to all that very personal data and information? The privacy policies of Alexa and Co. are opaque. It is not clear what exactly happens to a lot of private information that the speaker listens in on. If you actively press “mute” or the “microphone off” button on the device, Alexa does not record anything, according to Amazon. However, this means that the voice control can no longer be used actively. It is precisely this function that makes Alexa so attractive to many. If you want to ask Alexa something by voice for the sake of practical simplicity, you always have to let “her” listen in. So be aware that these devices potentially compromise your privacy and that of your family and guests. All people who are in your home should therefore be made aware of the existence of the device. In addition, the misuse of your data by third parties such as hackers cannot be ruled out with certainty. Direct commands to Alexa are stored in the form of audio files in a so-called cloud, i.e. online, and can be deleted individually. However, your data may also end up on servers in countries that do not meet EU data protection standards. Another point of criticism is that Alexa collects users’ personal data such as interests and circumstances in order to play out personalized advertising.
For children, the presence of Alexa in the family can quickly become normal, just like the way of speaking with “her”. Alexa can develop a lively character for your child through the female voice. At the same time, keep in mind that Alexa will respond even without common courtesies like a greeting or a “please” and “thank you.” This could be stored by your child as normal social interaction. In addition, since voice assistants usually have a female voice, your child may get the impression that it is normal to give commands to women. Another risk with active voice assistants is that your child may accidentally make online orders.
If you are interested in using a smart voice assistant like Alexa, discuss the pros and cons of such software with all family members. Everyone should agree with the purchase. If a family member or friend is named “Alexa”, choose a different activation word. Otherwise, unintended queries could be started and unwanted purchases could be made. Disable the WLAN on the device if you do not need it or mute the microphones. Think carefully about the settings you want to make on the device and what other services you want the voice assistant to be connected to.