Parents are questioning the kid-friendly nature of Amazon’s smart speakers after Alexa “challenged” a ten-year-old girl to stick a penny in a power outlet. Thankfully, the child’s mom caught Alexa giving instructions for this “challenge,” which Amazon promptly scrubbed from Alexa search results.
When you ask Alexa a question, it performs a Bing search and automatically presents the “best” answer it can find. In this case, a ten-year-old girl asked Alexa for “a challenge” after following kid-friendly physical education challenges on YouTube. The smart speaker pulled a search result for the TikTok Penny Challenge, in which kids pull a plug halfway out of a socket and touch a penny to its prongs to create sparks of electricity.
Hi there. We're sorry to hear this! Please reach out to us directly via the following link so that we can look into this further with you: https://t.co/YlLYrTtGzy. We hope this helps. -Daragh
— Amazon Help (@AmazonHelp) December 27, 2021
Alexa attributes this challenge to an article on Our Community Now. Ironically, this article warns parents that the TikTok Penny Challenge will kill their kid, take their kid’s arm off, or start a house fire. Alexa did not understand the context of this article and presented the Penny Challenge’s lethal instructions without any warnings.
It’s clear that Amazon needs to improve on Alexa’s search functionality—this is more than just a safety problem; Alexa genuinely sucks at answering basic questions. But this specific incident could (probably) be avoided by setting an Echo smart speaker into Kids’ Edition mode. Alexa only pulls search results from approved sources when in kids’ mode, and it automatically filters some language and topics.
That said, parents aren’t to blame when their Alexa smart speaker tells a child to do something dangerous. This is Amazon’s responsibility; families should have peace of mind when installing an Echo speaker in their home, even if that speaker is set to “adult” mode.