Catherine Teitelbaum has more than 20 years of experience working in online policy and safety. She joined Amazon’s Family Trust team in 2020 after leading the Trust and Safety team at Twitch, the interactive livestreaming service. She is also a former elementary school teacher, a digital safety consultant, and the former director of policy and safety at Yahoo! Today. She now leads Amazon’s Family Trust team, which works to ensure that the content children explore on Amazon Kids devices and Amazon Kids+ is engaging, kid-friendly, and safe. A collector of children’s literature, an amateur photographer, and mom to a growing son, Teitelbaum offers insight into why digital awareness and safety are so vital for today’s families.
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to Amazon?
I started my career as an elementary school teacher and technology coordinator at a Silicon Valley public school. At first, I didn’t know much about technology, but the school won a grant that mandated whatever you spent on hardware and software had to be matched with staff development. I basically learned how to teach by teaching with technology. As more tools became available, I became increasingly intrigued and convinced of the value of digital technologies in education. As a parent and educator, I really want parents to understand and think about the role technology has in their family. Every technology decision a family makes is personal because no two families are alike, and each child is unique. That’s why it’s so important to me that Amazon Kids products are transparent, that families have choice in their technology decisions.
What is Amazon Kids?
Launched in 2012, Amazon Kids encompasses an entire collection of kids products and services that help parents protect their children online while also giving them freedom to explore, discover, and play. Our products include Fire Kids Tablets, Kindle Kids, and Echo devices for kids—which are all connected by Amazon’s Parent Dashboard.
Amazon Kids+ is our digital subscription service, which includes a kid-friendly library of popular apps, videos, books, Audible books, and educational content embedded in a safe environment. It’s ad-free and not connected to social media platforms, so it’s like a giant, safe sandbox for kids to explore. Through the Parent Dashboard, parents can control settings, adjust age and time limits, and even set educational goals. We enable kids to be as autonomous as possible by giving them access to a huge variety of safe, curated content that’s just right for their age and educational needs.
What is Family Trust? What does your team do?
Quite simply, our job at Family Trust is to ensure that Amazon digital and hardware products are safer for kids. If you talk to any parent, there is nothing more important in their world than the health and wellness of their children. This is in the front of our minds as we develop all our products.
While it’s everyone's job at Amazon to focus on the customer, Family Trust's responsibility is to focus specifically on earning the trust of kids and the grown-ups in their lives. When Amazon Kids develops products, Family Trust sits at the table and voices the concerns of kids and parents. We’re always on the lookout for “trust busters,” and we're able to have impact on how our products take shape.
We use Amazon’s Family Digital Well-Being Hub to provide parents with resources to better understand Amazon’s family-friendly devices and answer their most pressing questions around safely navigating the digital world. We are a trusted resource to help parents feel more confident about their family’s online activities.
You’ve spent more than 20 years working in online policy and safety. How has protecting children online changed?
Looking back at my career, I see the realm of digital health and safety in terms of overlapping eras. These issues first gained traction in the era of “What will they see?” The goal then was to prevent kids from stumbling across dangerous, creepy, or inappropriate content. This was followed by the “bully era,” where our goal was to protect kids from the negative conduct and communication—including cyberbullying—that grew alongside social media.
Now, we’re also in a “multi-device era,” where technology is such a ubiquitous part of daily life that we need to make sure our children are learning early how to be conscientious consumers. We are, after all, raising future grown-ups. The Amazon Kids team thinks a lot about how we can protect children, and about how to educate and empower them to be confident users of all technologies.
Why does Family Trust have partnerships with other institutes and organizations?
I believe it’s important for us to always keep learning. Technology is in a perpetual state of change, and it’s imperative for us to stay connected with the people and organizations at the forefront of technology research and education.
For example, we partner with the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, in partnership with Harvard Medical School, which studies the positive and negative effects of digital media on children’s well-being. Our partners at ConnectSafely are pioneers in the realm of technology education, creating a trove of content on how families can safely navigate the digital world. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is an international organization that promotes a culture of online responsibility and digital literacy for all.
Staying connected to these organizations helps us stay current in our decision-making and responsive to the latest research. We also partner with thought leaders—be it pediatricians, parents, or policymakers. A learning mindset is imperative.
What does the future look like for Family Trust?
One of the things I like most about our catalog of original and curated content is that it offers such a diverse range of fun experiences—all designed to encourage learning and growth. I want to continue to deepen the conversations we’re having with parents and develop products and content they can continue to trust.