Are Smart Speakers Safe for Kids?

Haley Zapal | January 23, 2020 | Internet Safety Tips Kids and Technology

“Alexa, play ‘Bad Guy’ by Billie Eilish.”

“OK Google, tell me a knock-knock joke!”

If your family has a smart speaker (or smart assistant, as they're often called), these are probably popular refrains heard around your house. Kids and adults alike have made these voice-activated speakers commonplace — some families even have multiple speakers placed throughout their homes.

The Alexas and Google Homes of the world have become de facto family members, and they probably bring your kids a lot of joy in the form of music, audiobooks, jokes, fun facts, and more. But are you aware of all the potential risks that come with having your kids interact with smart speakers on a daily basis? In this post, we explain some of the features that parents might not know about — you might be surprised by what these unassuming devices can do!

Instant Access Can Mean Explicit Access

Turning on music with just a quick verbal command is a key feature of smart speakers, and it’s probably one of the most common ways they’re used in your house. The music itself usually comes from popular streaming platforms like Amazon Music, Google Music, or Spotify, which means that kids have pretty much every song in the world at their fingertips.

This can be great for exploring the back catalog of classic artists, but it also means that kids may have access to songs that are well above their maturity level. It’s not just songs, either. Standup comedy, spoken word, lectures, and podcasts can be accessed just as easily. Fortunately, many speakers — including Amazon Echos and Google Homes — have explicit content filters that parents can enable to help protect their kids from unwanted exposure.

Smart Speakers Can Be Used Like Phones

In addition to listening to music and asking for fun facts about sharks, kids can use smart speakers to talk to friends and family. This functionality is tied to your phone (though some kids may have it tied to their own devices) and syncs with your contacts. But it can also be used to call public numbers — including those of strangers — as well as order services like Lyft and Uber. Just like the explicit filter mentioned above, the calling feature can be turned off within your smart speaker’s app as a protective measure.

In addition to making calls, Amazon’s “Drop In” and Google’s “Broadcast” features allow you to communicate directly from speaker to speaker. You can use these features to talk to another smart speaker in a different room of your home, or in some cases even in another house entirely! But unlike a regular phone call, people can contact you through Drop In even if you don’t want them to. As long as the feature is enabled on both devices, family, friends, or even strangers can make contact. This could lead to unwanted communication — and even harassment.

There Are Still Privacy Issues on Smart Speakers

While these devices seem generally safe, there are some privacy and security concerns that come with having a microphone always listening to what your family is saying. When you interact with a smart assistant, the companies behind them are tracking your activities, purchases, contacts, and more — and kids are no exception. While these companies assure users that all data is safely encrypted, there is always the chance that a third party could access it through hacking, a data breach, or another disruption.

Smart speakers are just one of the many ways children, tweens, and teens can access the internet, and it’s important to know some of the potential risks they may face while using them. In addition to setting parental controls, it’s important to use a monitoring service like Bark to help protect your kids online. Bark monitors text messages, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for these same issues. for a free, one-week trial!

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.