Data handling and Alexa
Data controls and Alexa
Activating a smart speaker either requires saying the wake word out loud, like “Alexa”, or tapping a button with the word “talk” or “microphone”.
Voice technology isn’t new to classrooms. For more than 5 years, every iPad or Chromebook has allowed teachers and students to use their voice to make requests to Siri or Google, instead of typing. Smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo, took screen-based voice technology and put it into a hardware device with only a microphone and speaker (and no screen).
Conceptually, all voice technology works the same way. A voice request is captured (as an alternative to typing) and this recording is sent to the cloud for automated transcription into text, which is then processed by the software in the cloud, followed by a response spoken back to the user.
Once an Amazon Echo is connected and ready, it remains in “standby” mode, like a TV that turns on and off with a remote control. Alexa turns “on” from standby, when it hears a wake word (“Alexa” or one of 3 other options). Once it turns on, a blue ring lights up, visibly indicating that it is waiting for a request, and that the device is now connected to the internet to send the voice request for processing in the Amazon cloud. When it doesn’t hear the wake word, the Amazon Echo device remains in standby. While in standby, there is no visible light, and Amazon doesn’t record what’s spoken, or send it to the Amazon cloud.
Every Amazon Echo device comes with a mute button. When pressed, the microphones on the device are disabled and a red ring lights up on the device.
Just like apps that can be installed on your smartphone or tablet, it is possible to install “apps” on an Amazon Echo device (Amazon calls these “Skills”). ClassAlexa, our product, is a set of “Skills” that can be installed on a Amazon Echo smart speaker, which is supported by a web application.
Some skills are specifically designed for kids, and have been identified by the developer as directed to children under age 13. For these skills, Amazon requires verifiable parental consent under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), before kid skills can be used. Amazon asks parents to give permission the first time an attempt is made to use a kid skill. Amazon also sends a confirmation email after permission is granted. We’ve added a link to the parental consent page below.
Last October, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated the COPPA guidelines, confirming they will not take enforcement action, if a child under the age of 13 makes a short request to Alexa, such as to perform a search or fulfill a verbal instruction or request, without parental consent, if the collected audio file containing a child’s voice is used solely as a replacement for written words, and the provider only maintains the file for the brief time necessary for that purpose, after which the file is deleted. We’ve added a link to the FTC’s statement below.
As every school or district has different data handling and privacy requirements, teachers are integrating Amazon Echo devices in the classroom in different ways. One approach is to keep the Amazon Echo device in standby mode so that the device turns on with the wake word. Here are a few other approaches worth considering:
Never activated by a spoken wake word, at any time
Use an Amazon Echo Tap device, or the Amazon Alexa app on a tablet or phone, where voice requests can only be made by pressing on a Talk or microphone button. This is essentially the same as how Siri and Google voice search works on all devices. There is the inconvenience of having to walk over to the device to make requests.
Only unmute microphone when needed
Keep the Amazon Echo on mute all day, and unmute when the device is needed. Muting means that the microphones are not operational. Muting and unmuting requires physically pressing a button on the Amazon Echo device, and once muted a bright red ring lights up as a visible reminder that the device is muted. Again, there is the inconvenience of having to walk over to the device to make requests.
Keep microphone on mute and use the Alexa remote control at all times
The remote requires a button to be pressed to speak to Alexa. Again, this means the microphones are not operational, and it is not possible to activate Alexa or the remote control by saying a wake word out loud to the device. Plus, teachers can keep the remote with them at all times, without needing to talk loudly across the room, or having to walk over to the device to make requests.
Yes, the account holder can review the full history of the voice requests, including the voice recordings made to the Alexa device in the Alexa phone app. There is also a quick “delete all” at Amazon.com/mycd/ under “Your Devices”. The teacher or account owner can also delete any or all recordings, which will permanently remove these recordings from Amazon servers. This has enabled schools to implement a regular process of deletion of recordings that are not tied to student records.
In a classroom environment with a teacher and many students, voices that are spoken to Alexa cannot be identified to a specific individual, unless each voice is deliberately or intentionally trained to be identified. Teachers or account owners can disable the ability for voices to be trained and a profile stored.
Also, in the Alexa App, teachers turn off automatic voice recognition or delete voice profiles. This means that Alexa cannot automatically recognize voices of users over time by using voice recordings to create an acoustic model of a user’s voice characteristics.
Smart speakers are designed to be communal and placed in a common area. Speaking out loud means that others can also hear what’s being asked. Also, all voice recordings are captured in the account owner’s Alexa app and can be reviewed at any time. This is unlike a 1-to-1 screen based device, where, for example typing a query into Google can happen in private. Also, Alexa has an explicit filter for Amazon Music that can be enabled in the Alexa App.
Yes, we believe that certain Alexa app settings work best for the classroom environment, and our recommendations are available here.
ClassAlexa is made for teachers, so only requires a teacher’s account. It does not require student accounts, student profiles, and no student records or personally identifiable information is stored.
ClassAlexa Skills are interacted with by teachers, whether that’s requesting students to line up, or playing a brain break. The activities and content are there to support classroom management, lesson warm-ups and reviews, and the classroom climate.
ClassAlexa doesn’t receive recording of voices as we are third-party developer (this rule applies with all skills that are created by a third-party developer for Alexa). ClassAlexa receives an unidentifiable text transcript of the recording, which means we don’t have a recording of voices, and can’t identify whose voice it is (unless of course someone inadvertently speaks a name in the recording, and this name is transcribed into text).
ClassAlexa doesn’t capture student personally identifiable information, and none of our skills request children to provide personally identifiable information. One feature we do make available for teachers is the class random picker, which allows for a teacher to add a list of student first names. When requested by a teacher, our skill will then pick a random student, or assign student groups by name. If a teacher does add this information, it is directory information and is a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulation exception. This information isn’t used by us for identification, targetting or marketing purposes. Note that creating a class random picker is not a requirement of using ClassAlexa, so is optional. Also, ClassAlexa is not connected to school software that processes and stores student records.
If a teacher enables a student to invoke and interact with the ClassAlexa skill, the voice recording will not be personally identifiable by Amazon, as it is not connected to a particular child by name, or other identifiable information. For example, a teacher may ask a child to say “Alexa, ask My Class for mindfulness”, and our skill will never ask the student for any personally identifiable information. While this might be the case, both teachers and administrators can put in place a process that requires regular deletion of voice recordings via a teacher or administrator’s Amazon account, and/or send a written consent form request to parents, as an added measure or requirement. We’ve added a link to the Amazon Parental Consent page below.
No, we do not create student accounts, profiles, or ask for information identifying a student. We cannot and will not target or market to students.
ClassAlexa software runs on Amazon Web Services, which meets the requirements of FERPA. We’ve added a link with more information below.
We believe that all parents should understand how ClassAlexa is being used in the classroom. That’s why we’ve created a parent email/letter for teachers to share. We also created a letter for administrators.
To learn more about Amazon’s policies, here are a few links: