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The Brood: When kids and smart home tech products mix

The mute button on the Amazon Echo.
The mute button on the Amazon Echo.
Rob Albright / Flickr Creative Commons

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If you're a parent, maybe you've had that moment where you see your kid interacting with technology and think: how cute!

My two year old knows how to swipe on a screen! My five year old FaceTimed with grandma all by herself!

But some times, it's not all that cute. 

Like when a six-year-old in Arkansas unlocked her sleeping mother's cell phone with her thumb, and went on to rack up a $250 bill. Or when another six-year-old in Texas ordered a $170 dollhouse and four pounds of cookies through Amazon's voice-activated device known as Alexa. 

And now there's even voice-activated assistant technology that's specifically designed for kids.

The presence of all this technology is raising a lot of thorny questions about parental supervision— questions that Take Two's Alex Cohen put to technology writer and researcher Alexandra Samuel.

Stories about kids being able to use these types of devices to make unauthorized purchases, Samuel says, do make her worry about the future.

"If we're talking about six-year-olds in 2016/17, you know, I had a six-year-old in 2012," Samuel  says. "And let me tell you, back in 2012, kids who wanted to really drain their parents' bank accounts couldn't just rely on voice dictation, you had to go to the trouble of getting online."

That raises questions about the responsibility of tech companies to make sure that it isn't so easy for a child to access these devices on their own.

"Alexa could easily come with voice purchasing disabled," Samuel says. "That could be the default state."

"We can see all the business reasons that that is not going to be what companies want to do, but I do think that it's an expectation that should be demanded by consumers and possibly by regulators."

But it's not all bad when kids and devices like Amazon Echo mix.  In her family, Samuel says, Alexa helped solve a problem she was having with her 10-year-old son.

After trying various solutions to limit the amount of time her son spent playing video games, the solution? Setting timer alerts on their Amazon Echo. 

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue media player above.