Information Privacy and Safeguards
We created AskMyClass to support teachers to create a positive classroom experience for students. We believe that what we offer should be safe and trustworthy, and the information you provide should be properly handled with your privacy respected. Here are the principles that guide us:
Teachers fully control information and activities added or shared on AskMyClass.
A minimal amount of information is required from teachers to create their account.
Students are not required to create accounts, profiles or provide personal information.
AskMyClass voice interactions respond to general commands and do not process personal information such as names or email addresses. Personal information is not requested, required, or used during interactions.
Classroom safety and appropriateness is fundamental to all activities and experiences that are developed or suggested.
AskMyClass does not advertise within AskMyClass services, nor will we use or sell personal information for advertising purposes or to third-parties.
AskMyClass is not used or intended to connect with external student record providers.
AskMyClass will continue to openly inform users about best practices related to voice technology in classrooms including controls that are available for additions and deletions, how the service works and changes/updates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Conceptually, all voice technology works the same way. A voice request is first captured (as an alternative to typing) on the user’s device. Then, this recording is sent to the cloud to be transcribed into text, which is then processed by the software in the cloud, and followed by a response spoken back by the user’s device.
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, speaker, and most with no screen.
Teachers, students, administrators, and parents can create and sign off on the rules for using voice technology in the classroom, so it is a safe experience that can still provide benefits for classroom management and student learning.
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 only turns “on” from standby, when it hears a wake word (“Alexa” or one of 3 other options), when the action button with the “dot” is pressed on top of the devices, or when the remote control’s microphone button is pressed and held down. 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.
An additional audio tone can be enabled in the Alexa app to mark the beginning and ending of a request. When enabled, a short audible tone will play immediately after the wake word is recognized by Alexa to indicate that the device is connected to the internet and streaming audio. When the request is completed, a short audible tone will be heard again, to indicate that the connection has closed and the device is no longer streaming audio.
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”). AskMyClass, our product, is a set of “Skills” that can be installed on a Amazon Echo smart speaker. These “Skills” are connected to the AskMyClass website, which allows teachers to add their own activities for the classroom.
AskMyClass is made for teachers, so only requires a teacher’s account. It does not require student accounts, profiles, or records
AskMyClass 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. AskMyClass is an educational service.
Activating a smart speaker either requires:
- saying the wake word out loud, like “Alexa”, or
- tapping the power button on the device or app, or
- pressing and holding the button on the Alexa remote.
Then you speak your request, for example, “What is the weather today?”
At anytime you can stop Alexa by saying “Alexa, stop”, or by tapping the power button on the device and saying “stop”, or by pressing and holding the remote button and saying “stop”.
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.
As every school or district has different data handling and privacy requirements, Amazon Echo devices are being integrated in the classroom in different ways. A standard 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
- Use an Amazon Echo Tap device, a Kindle Fire Tablet with Alexa, 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.
Choose to unmute microphone as needed
- Keep the Amazon Echo on mute all day, and unmute when the device is needed. Using mute 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. However, it’s the equivalent of putting away devices like the iPad or Chromebook when not in use.
Keep the microphone on mute and use the Alexa remote control at all times
- The remote control requires a button to be pressed and held down to speak to Alexa. This works with the Echo device on mute. 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 across the room, or walk over to the device to make requests.
We believe that all parents, and administrators, should understand how AskMyClass is being used in the classroom. That’s why we’ve created email/letters and presentation slides for teachers to share with parents and administrators.
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 here.
In October 2017, 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 Policy Statement and COPPA regarding voice recordings here.
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 has a profile that is intentionally trained on the Alexa app. Further, teachers or account owners can disable this ability for automatic voice recognition or delete existing voice profiles. This means that Alexa cannot automatically recognize voices of users over time via voice recordings to create an acoustic model of a user’s voice characteristics.
Further, each Echo device can be set up on an Amazon accounts that has a non-specific name and email address (like firstname.lastname@example.org).
AskMyClass 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). AskMyClass 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). With AskMyClass, if a child was to inadvertently speak a name to Alexa, our software will reject the text transcript that Amazon provides us, replacing the text transcript with the word “undefined” in our logs.
AskMyClass is designed for use by teachers. We do not intentionally collect student information, and none of our skills request students to provide personally identifiable information. If we inadvertently were to collect this information we will delete it.
One feature we do make available for teachers is the class random picker, which allows for a teacher to add a list such as spelling words, table groups, or student first names. When requested by a teacher, our skill will then pick a random item from the list, and send this to Alexa to speak back. We don’t log the item that was selected and the time this item was spoken back by Alexa. The teacher remains in control of this information, including adding, modifying, or deleting this information. Note that creating a class random picker is not a requirement of using AskMyClass, so is optional. Also, this information isn’t used by AskMyClass for identification, targeting or marketing purposes, and is not connected to school software that processes and stores student records.
If a teacher enables a student to invoke and interact with the AskMyClass skill, the voice recording is 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 to provide personally identifiable information.
No, we do not create student accounts, profiles, or require information identifying a student. We cannot and will not target or market to students.
AskMyClass software runs on Amazon Web Services, which meets the requirements of FERPA (see more about AWS and FERPA compliance here).We store and transfer our data using a secure layer and encrypted at rest. We restrict access to teacher data within the AskMyClass team.
- To learn more about Amazon’s policies, here are a few links:
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. The teacher or account owner can delete any or all recordings, which will permanently remove these recordings from Amazon servers. This has enabled schools to implement a regular process of deleting recordings each week, month, or semester. In our Classroom-ready settings for your Echo guide, we’ve written the quick steps for deleting voice recordings under “Alexa Privacy” in your Alexa app. There is also a quick “delete all” at Amazon.com/mycd/ under “Your Devices”.
Yes. Visit the Alexa Privacy Settings page, and select Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa. You can use the toggle to opt-in or opt-out of having voice recordings used to help develop new features, and to opt-in or opt-out of having messages used to help improve transcription accuracy.
No. Mute can only be turned on and off by pressing the button on the device.
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, as voice recordings from commands are captured in the account owner’s Alexa app, they can be reviewed at any time. This is unlike a 1-to-1 screen based device, where, for example a typed or voice query into Google can happen in private. Also, Alexa has an explicit filter for Amazon Music, and other services that allow filtering, to 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.
In addition, 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.