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 voice interactions into their products. The idea is to have toys that can respond to voice commands 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, though. 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.
While Amazon arguably has stronger security chops than your average toymaker, the company still stores voice recordings in the cloud, even for the Kids’ Edition of its Echo Dot speaker. And while Amazon says it doesn’t serve interest-based ads when Alexa’s being used on a child profile, it’s unclear if the same policies will apply to Alexa Gadgets for Kids, and what other data toymakers might get to access.
We’ve reached out to Amazon for clarification and will update if we hear back.