The tech giants are racing to get digital assistants into our homes – the Amazon Echo Dot currently has a 40% discount during Amazon Prime Day – but debate rages over whether they are suitable for children.

There have certainly been teething problems.

Toy giant Mattel abandoned its “AI babysitter”, Aristotle, last year following privacy concerns.

And music streaming service Spotify is currently testing a way of filtering out songs with explicit lyrics following complaints from parents that family-friendly versions of tracks did not play by default when requested on smart speakers.

Amazon Echo meanwhile added a feature to encourage children to be more polite to it following concerns that the abrupt way in which people talk to it was teaching children to be rude.

Should children have their own smart speaker?

If you accept that voice-based tech is where our gadgets are headed, then there is an argument that children need to be familiar with it as it evolves.

“Isn’t it a good thing if my sons are learning how to interact with these kinds of devices now to prepare them for whatever machines they’ll be speaking to as adults?” pondered tech journalist Stuart Dredge – while also conceding that he wants his children to do so while closely supervised by him, and that means not having one in their bedrooms.

However, when Amazon released a special version of the Amazon Echo aimed specifically at children in the US, the Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood issued a statement raising concerns about the device, accompanied by a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos from two American politicians.

“Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night,” said campaign director Josh Golin.

“AI devices raise a host of privacy concerns and interfere with the face-to-face interactions and self-driven play that children need to thrive.”

Amazon responded that technology in general is “not designed to replace parenting or social connection”.

– Zoe Kleinman

Read more: Amazon Alexa: is it Friends With Your Kids?

Image by Marvin Meyer from Unsplash