If you have kids and you also have an Amazon Echo, you’ll notice they’re quick to talk to Alexa. But you can run into sticky situations if your kid asks, say, “Alexa, what is murder?” Or if they ask Alexa to play music at the top of the charts and immediately hear Drake’s “Nice for What” opening with, “I wanna know who mothafuckin’ representin’ in here tonight.” A valid question to be sure, but perhaps not phrased in a way appropriate for a 5-year old.
Starting May 9, anybody with an Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus devices will gain access to FreeTime, which adds fine-grained parental controls to what your kid can access via an Echo. It allows parents to set time limits on Echo use, choose which services and skills their kids can access, turn off voice-purchasing, and block explicit songs (though this currently only works with Amazon Music).
Under FreeTime, Alexa will use a child-appropriate educational style to answer questions. Instead of rattling off a long, semi-complicated Wikipedia answer to “Alexa, what’s a dog?” Alexa will use a simpler vocabulary and a more concise answer. Alexa will also use a “Magic Word” feature to offer positive reinforcement to kids when they say “please” when asking Alexa to do something. There’s also a dashboard where parents can review their kids’ activity on the Echo.
FreeTime Unlimited offers all of that, plus a few more bells and whistles for $2.99 a month. Kids will get access to a variety of children’s books on Audible, as well as kid-friendly radio stations provided by iHeartRadio. There’s also special Alexa skills built with kids in mind from companies like Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic.
Amazon is also rolling out a new product, the Echo Dot Kids Edition. It comes with a chunky, kid-friendly plastic cover in three colors, and includes a free year of FreeTime Unlimited. The Kids Edition also has a two-year “worry free” warranty — if someone ends up spilling apple juice on your Dot, Amazon will replace it. It’s available for preorder now for $79.99, and starts shipping May 9. That said, an Echo Dot costs $49.99; you just don’t get the plastic cover and the free subscription to FreeTime Unlimited. Your call if having your kid get a wake-up call from a Disney character is worth the extra 30 bucks — and if you feel comfortable putting an always-on AI speaker in your kid’s bedroom.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the launch date of FreeTime. It will be rolled out to Echo customers on May 9.