As posted on How parents can avoid this nightmare scenario: ‘Alexa, order me a dollhouse’
Amazon Echo and Google Home can make you feel like you’ve stumbled across a genie: say what you want and, like magic, it appears on your doorstep. That’s both cool and convenient — until it isn’t.
And as the incident earlier this year where a 6-year-old girl ordered a $170 dollhouse and four pounds of cookies demonstrates, it often isn’t.
Makers of the devices are not oblivious to the threat posed by children, and have taken small steps to protect them (the devices — not the children).
How to turn voice-activated purchases off
For Amazon Echo, the first and most drastic step is to disable purchasing by voice. Notably, this feature is turned on by default, so after you register your new device, you’ll want to immediately open up the Alexa app navigation panel and select "Settings" then "Voice Purchasing." You can now turn off "purchase by voice."
Voilà. Potential crisis averted.
Google Home offers the similar ability to toggle on and off what it calls "voice orders." Although, unlike with the Eco, this feature is not turned on by default. This is good news for parents who don’t feel the inclination to wade through a multi-step process. If you have turned voice orders on, but are having second thoughts now that Junior has started to speak, you can disable the feature by hitting the Menu icon in the Google Home app and scrolling over to "More Settings" then "Payments." Select “Pay with your Assistant” and you have just disabled that feature.
If you still want to order stuff with your voice
What if you want your kids locked out of voice ordering but still think it’s a good idea to restock Easy Cheese while you lie supine on the couch?
Alexa offers you a compromise: Securing your voice orders with a four-digit password. Navigate your way back to "Voice Purchasing" and select "(Optional) Require confirmation code." Select a code, and you’re all set — assuming your kids don’t learn the code.
Google Home does not have a similar password-protected option. Fortunately, it does currently have some roadblocks that may slow a young one down. At present, Google Home can only order things from a specific list of Google Express retailers. That limits your angel to only buying things offered at one of those store, although Toys"R"Us is one of those stores. Also, for the time being there is a $100 limit on orders, and each order can only consist of one item. Both are little consolation, but consolation nonetheless.
Sadly, neither Amazon Echo nor Google Home offer great tools to prevent little troublemakers from having their way with the shopping list. Amazon’s four-digit password is a start, but becomes more or less worthless as soon as a kid hears you use it once. Until the companies figure out a way to restrict users based on specific voices, the safest best is just to disable the feature all together.
That’s right, you’ll just have to use your ever-present smartphone to order your random internet junk. And hey, feel free to blame it on the kid — we won’t tell.