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Amazon.com Inc., whose home and surveillance devices have drawn criticism from privacy advocates, has considered developing an Alexa-powered wearable device for children.
Codenamed Seeker, the GPS-equipped device would be geared toward kids aged 4 to 12 and could take the form of a wristband, keychain or clip, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg. The voice-activated wearable would provide access to Amazon’s children-focused content and let parents communicate with and monitor their kids.
Amazon was exploring the concept of the device in mid-2019 as part of its product roadmap for 2020, and it’s unclear whether the project moved forward.
The company has sought to develop various Alexa-enabled products targeting children. A wearable Disney gadget codenamed the Magic Band is scheduled to arrive this year, according to the documents. It’s unclear whether it’s a toy or is associated with the guest-tracking Magic wristband Walt Disney Co. has deployed in its parks and hotels.
The two companies already collaborate in various ways. Amazon’s cloud computing division powers the Disney+ streaming service, and, earlier this year, Amazon began offering its music service subscribers several free months of Disney+.
Amazon and Disney declined to comment.
Amazon had also planned to release an Alexa-powered karaoke microphone dubbed Jackson on Prime Day, but no such device was forthcoming during the two-day annual sale last month.
The e-commerce giant planned to sell the kid-focused Seeker wearable for US$99, including wireless connectivity and a year’s access to the company’s FreeTime Unlimited subscription, which has since been rebranded Kids+. The subscription costs US$2.99 per month for access to books, movies, television shows, apps and games aimed at children and lets parents set limits on screen time and filter content based on a kid’s age.
A child-oriented device would mark an expansion of Amazon’s ambitions in consumer hardware. Last year, the company released a fitness band called Halo that can track physical activity, sleep, body fat and the wearer’s mood. The company has also been working on a home robot.
Advocacy groups and lawmakers have in the past criticized Amazon’s privacy protections for devices aimed at children. In 2019, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, now known as Fairplay, and the Center for Digital Democracy joined several other groups to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. They argued that Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids Edition infringed on children’s privacy rights by collecting data without verifiable parental consent.
The complaint also said the company retained recordings from the devices indefinitely, unless a parent explicitly requested they be deleted, and said the process for reviewing what information the devices collected was burdensome. Several U.S. senators also called on the FTC to investigate whether Amazon had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act with the device. Amazon said at the time that it was compliant with the law and on its corporate website lays out the steps it has taken to protect the privacy of FreeTime subscribers.
In the fall of 2019, Amazon unveiled new privacy tools, including an opt-in feature that lets users automatically delete their Alexa recordings on a periodic basis. The privacy enhancements followed a Bloomberg report that thousands of Amazon workers around the world were reviewing audio clips collected by Alexa devices in an effort to improve their responses to commands.