Many households include children who use voice personal assistants (VPA) such
as Amazon Alexa. Children benefit from the rich functionalities of VPAs and
third-party apps but are also exposed to new risks in the VPA ecosystem. In
this paper, we first investigate “risky” child-directed voice apps that contain
inappropriate content or ask for personal information through voice
interactions. We build SkillBot – a natural language processing (NLP)-based
system to automatically interact with VPA apps and analyze the resulting
conversations. We find 28 risky child-directed apps and maintain a growing
dataset of 31,966 non-overlapping app behaviors collected from 3,434 Alexa
apps. Our findings suggest that although child-directed VPA apps are subject to
stricter policy requirements and more intensive vetting, children remain
vulnerable to inappropriate content and privacy violations. We then conduct a
user study showing that parents are concerned about the identified risky apps.
Many parents do not believe that these apps are available and designed for
families/kids, although these apps are actually published in Amazon’s “Kids”
product category. We also find that parents often neglect basic precautions
such as enabling parental controls on Alexa devices. Finally, we identify a
novel risk in the VPA ecosystem: confounding utterances, or voice commands
shared by multiple apps that may cause a user to interact with a different app
than intended. We identify 4,487 confounding utterances, including 581 shared
by child-directed and non-child-directed apps. We find that 27% of these
confounding utterances prioritize invoking a non-child-directed app over a
child-directed app. This indicates that children are at real risk of
accidentally invoking non-child-directed apps due to confounding utterances.

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