Lawmakers write to Bezos about Echo Dot for kids

Two lawmakers are raising concerns about the latest version of Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, which is designed especially for kids.

On Friday, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Congressman Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with several questions about the new Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Last year, Markey and Barton — co-founders of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus — wrote a letter to toy manufacturer Mattel with concerns about its “Aristotle” product. The WiFi-enabled toy featured audio and visual monitoring for kids. The company ultimately stopped selling the device.

The letter to Amazon includes 12 questions about the Echo Dot Kids Edition, the $79.99 gadget that plays kid-friendly music, answers questions and comes with parental controls, such as time limits for use. The device began shipping this week.

The lawmakers asked Bezos whether Amazon maintains a data profile on each child and how long the company keeps recordings and other information collected by the device.

“While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new education and entertainment opportunities, Americans’ privacy, particularly children’s privacy, must be paramount,” Markey and Barton wrote in the letter. “There is also increasing concern about the effects of digital media and technology use among children and teens.”

To address privacy concerns, the tech giant said it doesn’t share kids’ data with third parties like advertisers. Parents can also listen to archives of their child’s voice requests via the Alexa app and delete them.

In response to the letter, Amazon said technology isn’t a replacement for parenting or social connection.

“One of the great things about Alexa and Echo is the communal nature of the device — parents and kids can join in the learning and fun together,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Parents can review activity on the Parent Dashboard from FreeTime Unlimited, which offers access to kid-friendly books and ad-free radio stations. The spokesperson also said parents can pause the device “whenever they’d like.”

“We believe one of the core benefits of FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited is that the services provide parents the tools they need to help manage the interactions between their child and Alexa as they see fit,” the spokesperson added.

Amazon said it worked with a “handful” of advocacy groups, such as Family Online Safety Institude (FOSI), and child development experts from Yale and the University of Washington, as well as local Seattle pediatricians and researchers, to develop the Echo Kids Edition.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and several child development experts also cautioned parents about the device.

“Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin.

Experts also expressed concern about privacy and the device interfering with face-to-face interactions and a child’s play time and healthy development.

“Amazon is acting irresponsibly by urging parents to unleash an AI-driven Alexa product into their children’s lives, without first ensuring that it will not harm their cognitive and emotional development,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the CDD.

In January, the CCFC led an effort to shut down Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, which is aimed at six to 12 year olds. More than a dozen organizations and about 100 health experts sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the new chat app will likely damage a child’s healthy development. Facebook has said it has no plans to shutter the app.

Previously, the CCFC successfully stopped McDonald’s from advertising on report card envelopes and convinced the NFL to discontinue a controversial online fantasy football game for kids.

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Lawmakers write to Bezos about Echo Dot for kids

Two lawmakers are raising concerns about the latest version of Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, which is designed especially for kids.

On Friday, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Congressman Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with several questions about the new Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Last year, Markey and Barton — co-founders of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus — wrote a letter to toy manufacturer Mattel with concerns about its “Aristotle” product. The WiFi-enabled toy featured audio and visual monitoring for kids. The company ultimately stopped selling the device.

The letter to Amazon includes 12 questions about the Echo Dot Kids Edition, the $79.99 gadget that plays kid-friendly music, answers questions and comes with parental controls, such as time limits for use. The device began shipping this week.

The lawmakers asked Bezos whether Amazon maintains a data profile on each child and how long the company keeps recordings and other information collected by the device.

“While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new education and entertainment opportunities, Americans’ privacy, particularly children’s privacy, must be paramount,” Markey and Barton wrote in the letter. “There is also increasing concern about the effects of digital media and technology use among children and teens.”

To address privacy concerns, the tech giant said it doesn’t share kids’ data with third parties like advertisers. Parents can also listen to archives of their child’s voice requests via the Alexa app and delete them.

In response to the letter, Amazon said technology isn’t a replacement for parenting or social connection.

“One of the great things about Alexa and Echo is the communal nature of the device — parents and kids can join in the learning and fun together,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Parents can review activity on the Parent Dashboard from FreeTime Unlimited, which offers access to kid-friendly books and ad-free radio stations. The spokesperson also said parents can pause the device “whenever they’d like.”

“We believe one of the core benefits of FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited is that the services provide parents the tools they need to help manage the interactions between their child and Alexa as they see fit,” the spokesperson added.

Amazon said it worked with a “handful” of advocacy groups, such as Family Online Safety Institude (FOSI), and child development experts from Yale and the University of Washington, as well as local Seattle pediatricians and researchers, to develop the Echo Kids Edition.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and several child development experts also cautioned parents about the device.

“Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin.

Experts also expressed concern about privacy and the device interfering with face-to-face interactions and a child’s play time and healthy development.

“Amazon is acting irresponsibly by urging parents to unleash an AI-driven Alexa product into their children’s lives, without first ensuring that it will not harm their cognitive and emotional development,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the CDD.

In January, the CCFC led an effort to shut down Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, which is aimed at six to 12 year olds. More than a dozen organizations and about 100 health experts sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the new chat app will likely damage a child’s healthy development. Facebook has said it has no plans to shutter the app.

Previously, the CCFC successfully stopped McDonald’s from advertising on report card envelopes and convinced the NFL to discontinue a controversial online fantasy football game for kids.

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Mom with terminal cancer sees son graduate at hospital

Like many parents, Stephanie Northcott dreamed of the day she would get to see her son Dalton walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma.

That dream took on an urgency when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2015 and given 10 months to live.

“For two years, that’s all she’s (been) talking about. She wanted to make it to her son’s graduation,” said Julie Northcott, her friend of 21 years.

The two women are as close as sisters and share the same last name because Julie is married to Stephanie’s ex-husband.

Stephanie’s son, Dalton Jackson, finished all his requirements and was set to graduate from Halls High School in Halls, Tennessee, on May 18.

But doctors were afraid she wouldn’t make it, so her friends and loved ones worked to bring the graduation to her.

“No matter what, you’re going to see Dalton graduate,” Julie recalled telling Stephanie. “I just had to do it one way or another.”

Graduation day

Getting the school on board was easy. Julie said the principal told her “just give me a time and a date and I’ll be there.”

The medical staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital East in Memphis was just awesome and did everything to make sure Stephanie was as comfortable as possible, Julie said.

“My baby’s graduating,” Stephanie said as staff wheeled her hospital bed into the chapel.

Once Stephanie was settled in, “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing and Dalton walked in along with his football teammates in their jerseys and friends from his graduating class in their caps and gowns. He gave his mom a big hug and some balloons.

It was a struggle for Stephanie to speak, but she thanked everyone for giving her this moment and told Dalton she’d always be with him.

“You can do anything you ever put your mind to,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

Then Dalton got his diploma.

There were cheers, applause and so many tears when the graduates threw their caps in the air.

Dalton helped his mom stand up, and they danced to Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.”

When she couldn’t dance any more, she got back in bed and sang to Dalton and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Maddyson, who sat in her lap.

Now that he’s graduated, Dalton hopes to go to college in Mississippi and play football.

Heartbreaking diagnosis

Stephanie is battling cancer from Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the risk of several types of cancer. Her daughter, Amber, died of the same condition in 2012 at just 21.

She’s been in the hospital since April 25.

Julie said Stephanie hasn’t been doing well, but they hope to bring her home soon, so she can go into hospice care.

“She is so strong-willed. It’s just amazing how strong she really is,” Julie said.

Julie said they’ve set up a fund to help pay for Stephanie’s funeral expenses at the Bank of Ripley in Tennessee.

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Mom with terminal cancer sees son graduate at hospital

Like many parents, Stephanie Northcott dreamed of the day she would get to see her son Dalton walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma.

That dream took on an urgency when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2015 and given 10 months to live.

“For two years, that’s all she’s (been) talking about. She wanted to make it to her son’s graduation,” said Julie Northcott, her friend of 21 years.

The two women are as close as sisters and share the same last name because Julie is married to Stephanie’s ex-husband.

Stephanie’s son, Dalton Jackson, finished all his requirements and was set to graduate from Halls High School in Halls, Tennessee, on May 18.

But doctors were afraid she wouldn’t make it, so her friends and loved ones worked to bring the graduation to her.

“No matter what, you’re going to see Dalton graduate,” Julie recalled telling Stephanie. “I just had to do it one way or another.”

Graduation day

Getting the school on board was easy. Julie said the principal told her “just give me a time and a date and I’ll be there.”

The medical staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital East in Memphis was just awesome and did everything to make sure Stephanie was as comfortable as possible, Julie said.

“My baby’s graduating,” Stephanie said as staff wheeled her hospital bed into the chapel.

Once Stephanie was settled in, “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing and Dalton walked in along with his football teammates in their jerseys and friends from his graduating class in their caps and gowns. He gave his mom a big hug and some balloons.

It was a struggle for Stephanie to speak, but she thanked everyone for giving her this moment and told Dalton she’d always be with him.

“You can do anything you ever put your mind to,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

Then Dalton got his diploma.

There were cheers, applause and so many tears when the graduates threw their caps in the air.

Dalton helped his mom stand up, and they danced to Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.”

When she couldn’t dance any more, she got back in bed and sang to Dalton and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Maddyson, who sat in her lap.

Now that he’s graduated, Dalton hopes to go to college in Mississippi and play football.

Heartbreaking diagnosis

Stephanie is battling cancer from Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the risk of several types of cancer. Her daughter, Amber, died of the same condition in 2012 at just 21.

She’s been in the hospital since April 25.

Julie said Stephanie hasn’t been doing well, but they hope to bring her home soon, so she can go into hospice care.

“She is so strong-willed. It’s just amazing how strong she really is,” Julie said.

Julie said they’ve set up a fund to help pay for Stephanie’s funeral expenses at the Bank of Ripley in Tennessee.

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Delaware 1st state to ban child marriage

Delaware has made history as the first state in the nation to ban child marriage under all circumstances.

Democratic Gov. John Carney signed a bill this week making it illegal for anyone under age 18 to get married, even with parental consent.

Before this, minors in Delaware could get married at any age with parental consent and a judge’s approval, officials said.

Despite most US state laws setting the age of marital consent at 18, every other state and the District of Columbia have loopholes for minors seeking marriage licenses, experts say. Texas and Virginia, for instance last year enacted new laws limiting marriage to those 18 and older, but they made narrow exceptions for minors granted adult rights by the courts.

“Most US states set the minimum age at 18,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “But except for Delaware, all still allow exceptions, most of which are very broad — for example with parental permission, or for pregnancy. In 23 states, children of any age can marry under some circumstances.”

No legal standing

There were 167,000 children married in 38 states between 2000 to 2010, the latest numbers available, Human Rights Watch reported. In some states, children as young as 12 may marry.

“Children under 18 have no legal standing — they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card. They cannot enter any legal contract, but until this bill was signed they could be married as a child without any way of escaping an abusive marriage,” Delaware Rep. Kim Williams, a Democrat and one of the bill’s main sponsors, said in a statement.

Delaware’s new law, which takes immediate effect, was a bipartisan effort.

“The law, up until the passage of this measure, included an exception for circumstances that would otherwise be considered statutory rape,” state Sen. Anthony Delcollo, a Republican, said in a statement. “This bill would eliminate this backward and, what I consider, unacceptable exception.”

Delcollo said minors are considered to have insufficient legal capacity to make some decisions, such as enter contracts with attorneys — and marriage should not be any different.

The United States is one of about 170 countries worldwide where advocates aim to end child marriages by 2030, in line with the United Nations’ goals.

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How does the royal family make its money?

Most people make money from their day jobs. British royals are not most people.

Queen Elizabeth II and the British royal family have multiple sources of income, but they’re still not as rich as you might expect.

Media reports have estimated the Queen’s personal fortune is worth up to $470 million. That’s a nice chunk of change, but over 320 Brits are richer, according to the Sunday Times.

The Queen and the heir to her throne, Prince Charles, receive most of their income from the government and their private estates. Millions trickle down to the rest of the family, including Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Harry, who will wed American actress Meghan Markle on May 19, also receives royal funds.

Here’s how the royal finances work:

Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen’s three main sources of income are the Sovereign Grant, the Duchy of Lancaster estate and her personal property and investments.

The Sovereign Grant — an annual lump sum from the government — is essentially an expense account, covering the costs of travel, security, staff and the upkeep of royal palaces.

The Queen received £42.8 million ($58 million) free of tax from the Sovereign Grant in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The payment was projected to balloon by 78% to £76.1 million ($103 million) in the latest fiscal year to help finance an extensive renovation of Buckingham Palace.

The Sovereign Grant is generated from the Crown Estate, a collection of UK properties and farms that generate hundreds of millions of pounds each year. The vast majority of earnings from the Crown Estate go into government coffers, but a portion of the profits — between 15% to 25% — are given to the Queen in the form of the Sovereign Grant.

Another important source of income for the monarch is the Duchy of Lancaster, a private estate of commercial, agricultural and residential properties that dates back to 1265. It produced £19.2 million ($26 million) in income for the Queen during the most recent fiscal year. The Queen uses this money to pay for official and private expenses, including some costs incurred by other members of the royal family who undertake official engagements on her behalf.

The Queen also has her own personal assets, including Balmoral Castle in Scotland and the Sandringham Estate in the east of England. Both were inherited from her father and are beloved family retreats.

But her wealth extends far beyond real estate. The Queen also owns a valuable stamp collection, numerous works of art and a stock portfolio.

Other assets closely associated with the Queen, including the Crown Jewels and many works of fine art, are actually owned by the Royal Collection Trust, a charity.

The Queen’ husband — Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh — also receives an annual payment worth £359,000 ($488,000) to finance his official duties. He retired last year after more than six decades of public service.

Prince Charles and his clan

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, known formally as The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, rely on a mix of public and private money.

Over 90 percent of their income comes from a private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, which was established in 1337 to provide an income to the heir to the throne. The Duchy of Cornwall owns and operates land in rural and urban areas, a collection of islands and rental cottages in places like Wales and Cornwall.

In the most recent financial year, the couple made £20.7 million ($28 million) from the estate.

The couple also received £1.3 million ($1.8 million) from the Queen’s Sovereign Grant and another £461,000 ($627,000) from various UK government departments.

The Sovereign Grant is used to pay the couple’s official travel and property expenses. The government cash goes toward some official overseas trips and the salaries of members of the military who protect the family.

Roughly half of their annual income is spent on official duties and travel, while a quarter goes to the tax man. The remaining £6.6 million ($8.9 million) goes to Charles’ children, “non-official” purchases and a royal savings account.

When Markle officially joins the clan, Prince Charles has the discretion to give the couple more money.

Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry are also reimbursed for costs when they perform official duties on behalf of the Queen.

Prince William and Prince Harry have private, inherited wealth from their mother, Princess Diana.

The rest of the family

There is limited public information about how the rest of the royal family makes its money. The Queen has three other children aside from Prince Charles, and they too have children, spouses and grandchildren.

The Queen’s two youngest children, Andrew, the Duke of York, and Edward, the Earl of Wessex, work full-time to support the monarchy, which involves appearing at public engagements on behalf of their mother.

The Queen pays her children for these duties through her income from the Sovereign Grant and Duchy of Lancaster.

The next generation is expected to forge their own careers and required to be more independent. For example, Andrew’s daughters — Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie — have full-time jobs in the business and art worlds, respectively. But they also receive some financial support from their father.

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