Next time you sing “Rubber Ducky” in the bathtub, it might be able to sing back.
Amazon is now partnering with toymakers such as Hasbro and Tomy International on building Alexa interactions into their products. The idea is to have toys that can sync up with an Amazon Echo or other Alexa device with sounds, lights, or movements. And we weren’t kidding about the rubber ducky: One company by the name of BabyPlus is working on a “Smart Duck.”
This is all part of a broader initiative called Alexa Gadgets, which gives Amazon’s voice assistant deeper ties to real-world objects. For instance, users might be able to set a medication reminder with Alexa and have it trigger lights and sounds on a nearby pill box. Amazon is now opening up some developer tools for creating these Gadgets, and a kid-specific version is coming later this year.
Mixing children’s toys and internet features hasn’t always gone well. Last year, researchers discovered a vulnerability in Spiral Toys’ CloudPets that allowed easy access to more than 2 million private voice messages. In 2015, Mattel and voice software maker ToyTalk had to patch an internet-connected Barbie doll after researchers discovered a way to access recordings of children. A breach of toy maker VTech that same year exposed children’s photos and chat logs.
In this case, Alexa Gadgets won’t connect directly to the internet. Instead, they’ll pair via Bluetooth with a separate Echo or other Alexa device, so that Amazon handles all the internet connectivity and voice recordings. Like other companies that build Alexa skills, Gadget makers only get the data they need to process users’ requests. Amazon also says it will not use interactions with Alexa Gadgets for Kids to serve interest-based ads, and will require parental consent to enable any of these devices.
Still, some parents may be skittish about having their children talk to an Echo in the first place; even for the Kids’ Edition of the Echo Dot speaker, Amazon stores all voice interactions in the cloud, and uses that data to build profiles of children’s’ preferences over time. Don’t expect your average rubber ducky to do that.
This story has been updated with Amazon’s responses on data collection, and to note that Alexa Gadgets do not connect directly to the internet.