’tis the Season for a Tablet

This Christmas, one of the hottest presents for any digital kid is a tablet. A tablet can best be described as a smaller, more portable laptop that can browse the internet, show movies, take pictures, play music, and download apps. The two hottest tablets on the market are the Kindle Fire and the iPad.

The Kindle Fire has received a lot of press and not just for its low price. This tablet may also include the gift of unlimited access to a credit card. The Kindle Fire arrives automatically preloaded with the purchaser’s Amazon account information and “1-Click” ordering enabled. Anyone who is holding the device can place an order through the purchaser’s account with one click of a button. No prompts come up to confirm the purchase nor does it ask for a password.

If you have not ordered it yet, Amazon suggests ordering it as a “gift” and it will come without the account information. To fully use all of the features of your Kindle Fire, the recipient will have to register it to an Amazon account. For digital purchases, the account must have 1-Click billing enabled. Parents can set up a separate account without a credit card. Amazon will ask to associate a credit or debit card with the address, but entering one of these payment methods is not required. A kid can use Amazon Gift Cards to fund their purchases. However, a Gift Card balance cannot be used to pay for books sold from the publisher or content with recurring subscription charges.

For parental controls, Amazon only limits in-app purchases. Parents can change this setting through the Amazon Store app. Parents can choose to require a password for in-app purchases or not allow in-app purchasing. In-app purchases are made within a free or paid app to buy extra features. For example, the app Smurf Village is free but kids can purchase a bucket of smurfberries for $5. To avoid racking up $1000 in smurfberries, parents should limit in-app purchases.

That is it for parental controls. Amazon discussion pages are full of parents complaining about the inability to restrict inappropriate content. Some parents have added the free app Kids Place. The app lets you create a new “homescreen”, and control what apps are on it and turn off web browsing. This may work for young kids but the all or nothing solution for web browsing will most likely not fly with a teen.

Privacy advocates have also expressed concern over data collection. When surfing the web, the Kindle Fire connects directly to Amazon through its SILK browser. All of your web surfing is transmitted through Amazon. Privacy advocates recently spoke with Amazon and Amazon claims it does not connect this information to a user’s Amazon account. However if Amazon potentially collecting data concerns you, this option can be turned off by clicking “off cloud”’ mode.

If instead of the Kindle Fire you decided to spring for the iPad, parents can set limits by changing the restrictions. Like the iPod Touch and iPhone, parents can disable in-app purchases and set age appropriate limits for content. Yoursphere offers a screen by screen guide to changing restrictions and settings for kids. If you prefer a video, Mobicip has a 1 minute video discussing how to set iPad restrictions for kids. For additional web filtering, the Apple App Store contains a free app for web protection and several paid apps.

With any new device, it is important not just to rely on controls and settings. Before a kid disappears with their new tablet take this opportunity to sit down and explore new tools, review settings and rules together.  Commonsense Media provides an excellent article about applying the same rules for gaming, searching, communicating and privacy to tablets.

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