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October 24, 2017

Parental Consent for Voice Apps

Our mission at Tellables is the creation of engaging interactive voice applications. One of our focus areas is the design of fun and educational experiences for children. As a provider of content aimed at young listeners under the age of 13, we are committed to ensuring our adherence to the requirements outlined under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).

As part of our commitment, we are early adopters of the new parental consent requirements implemented by Amazon and Google. As a result, our two most popular voice applications–Tricky Genie and Listening Comprehension Practice / Story Champ–are unfortunately now available only in the United States. Both of these apps now require parental consent before they can be used.

Our Fake History skill, a challenging history game aimed at more advanced listeners, does not require parental consent.

What Do Parents Need to Know About COPPA?

If you are a parent, it’s important that you understand the basics of COPPA. The first thing to know is that COPPA is a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1998 and administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This law applies to web or digital content distributed in the United States only. The European Union passed a similar law in 2016, known as GDPR.

COPPA places requirements on any entity that distributes digital or other content to children under the age of 13. The key requirement is that parents must consent to their children accessing the content. Before providing their consent, parents are directed to review the policies of the application provider to see what data the app collects from the child and how that data is used.

How Do Amazon and Google Support COPPA?

Both Amazon and Google recently updated their voice assistant platforms to include a parental consent step for any skills or actions designated as targeting children under the age of 13. When submitting a voice application to either Amazon or Google for approval, providers must indicate whether the application is geared toward children.

Unfortunately, voice applications that target children are currently only available in the United States.

Parents must now navigate a consent process the first time they enable, or attempt to access, a child-focused / “family-friendly” voice application. The consent process is relatively painless and involves receiving, and then entering, a special code sent to the parent’s smartphone via SMS. Parents only need to perform this step once. After the step is completed, parents and children have access to any voice application that targets children.

What Else Do Parents Need to Know?

If parents are concerned about what data is being collected by voice applications their children use, they can review the privacy and data collection policies of the application providers. Both Amazon and Google require that companies offering child- / family-friendly apps post their privacy policies online.

You can review our privacy policy on our website.

What About Parents Outside the U.S.?

Unfortunately, voice applications for Alexa and the Google Assistant that are marked as targeting young listeners under the age of 13 are now restricted to distribution in the United States only. Our assumption is that this restriction is due to the complexity of navigating the differing child online privacy laws across the globe.

While we find it regrettable that only children in the U.S. have access to our popular kid-focused skills, we believe it’s important to adhere to child online privacy and protection requirements as best we can. We look forward to a time when Alexa, Google, and the other voice assistant platform providers are able to safely distribute our skills to listeners in all countries and regions.

What If I Want to Play the App and I’m Not a Child?

If you enjoy playing Tricky Genie or hearing the stories about Hutch (and many people older than 13 do!), you are absolutely encouraged to keep using our skills / actions. You will need to go through the parental consent step process, as would a parent. If there are no children in your household, this consent is just a necessary formality. But once you complete the few simple steps, you’ll have access again to our kid-friendly apps and to any other apps that are aimed primarily at younger listeners.

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