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Amazon's Alexa Communications for Kids adds child-proofing privacy upgrades

The company lets parents restrict who kids can talk to on the Echo Dot Kids Edition.

James Martin/CNET

Amazon on Wednesday said it's adding new privacy features for children using the company's Alexa voice assistant. Amazon said parents can use a setting called Alexa Communications for Kids to determine the contacts their kids are allowed to talk to on an Echo Dot Kids Edition.

The company announced the new feature at a launch event in Seattle, where it also introduced new devices, including Echo Buds earbuds and a high-end speaker called Echo Studio. 

The Echo Dot Kids Edition, a child-focused version of the company's smart speaker, has drawn lots of scrutiny. In May, children's advocates called on the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate the gadget. The next month, Amazon was hit with two lawsuits that alleged the company failed to get children's consent when it records them using its voice assistant. Amazon says it requires parental consent and provides many privacy controls for parents.

And Mozilla, the nonprofit tech company that owns Firefox, last year called on Amazon to provide more-specific information on how it uses children's data collected through the Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Child advocates have been concerned about the device's targeting of children, and how it could violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The law, passed in 1998, seeks to protect kids under 13. Amazon has said its kids-focused Echo Dot and its related FreeTime on Alexa software are COPPA-compliant. It mentioned in a blog post published in May that it requires parental consent and allows parents to delete children's profiles and recordings.

Amazon isn't the only tech giant under fire for its treatment of kids on its platforms. Earlier this month, YouTube was fined $170 million by the FTC for knowingly and illegally collecting children's data without their parents' consent. After the fine was announced, regulators hinted that voice assistants like the Google Assistant or Alexa could be their next target