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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Kindle Fire needs kid-friendly settings

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Well, the one person to whom I've spoken in person about her new Kindle Fire is delighted with it.

However -- and this isn't unexpected for a new product launch of this magnitude -- Amazon's $199 cross between a tablet and an e-reader is drawing some criticism, and the company says it will push out a software update to address some of the problems.

One criticism is that the Kindle automatically displays things like the last website visited and the last book read, with no easy way to turn off that feature or delete items from the history list so that they don't show up. This feature is no doubt designed to make it easy for a user to pick up the device and go right back to a favorite item, but it also means that if you're showing your device to someone else, or if someone else happens to pick it up, they can see where you've been. Some people don't like that from a privacy standpoint, and would like a way to either turn the feature off or edit the device's history.

The tablet's browsing speeds have also been criticized.

Amazon said it's preparing a software update to deal with some of the technical issues.

The reason the device is being sold by Amazon for little or no profit is because it makes it easy for users to buy content and products from Amazon; as I've discussed before, it's a variation on the old idea of selling a razor cheaply because the buyer will then have to buy the proprietary blades that will go in it.

But there have been concerns that the Kindle Fire's operating system makes it too easy to buy things, since it doesn't require a user to enter a password when logging in to the Amazon web site for media downloads. Some critics have asked for some form of parental control or password protection, since a child who picked up his or her parent's Fire could quickly generate a bill for video downloads, e-books or music unbeknownst to Mom and Dad.

"The popular device doesn't include enough parental controls that can block access to pornography, adult content or allow unattended kids to rack up charges on their parents' account," wrote Christina DesMarais at the PCWorld Magazine website.

I haven't heard any reports on whether Amazon's software update will address the parental control issue.

Even before the brouhaha over the Fire, I had wondered out loud here in the newsroom whether Amazon intended to develop an e-reader to be specifically marketed to children. That could include not only the obvious marketing gimmicks -- a brightly-colored case, perhaps featuring licensed characters or other kid-friendly designs -- but also parental controls, so that kids wouldn't be able to buy books without Mom and Dad's permission, or would be restricted to a subset of age-appropriate reading choices.

At the time, I was thinking strictly of e-readers, not tablets, but there may be even more of a need for a kid-friendly Fire, with its emphasis on video, music and browsing. At the very least, Amazon may need kid-friendly settings that can be turned on before handing the device to your child.

Keyword-driven content filters for surfing the web are not perfect -- they can sometimes block legitimate sites or let in unwanted ones. But when we're talking about purchases from Amazon's own store, an ecosystem where the online giant is in control, it could presumably develop age classifications for content.

The Kindle Fire, and the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet, are potentially game-changing products that will be under a lot of trees this Christmas. The manufacturers have plenty of incentive to try to respond to customer complaints if they want their market to keep expanding.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.

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John I. Carney
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.