Amazon's Kindle Fire lets kids charge up a storm

Tue Dec 6, 2011 3:35pm EST

Dec 6 (Reuters) - Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, one of the hottest gadgets this holiday season because of its low price, has some parents bristling over the simplicity at which children can order from the retail giant and the inability to stop them without crippling the device.

Another concern is over theft or losing the device, which can be then easily be accessed for purchases unless a user sets a password to lock the screen when it's not in use.

What happens is that when you order a Kindle Fire - which differs from the Kindle reader by allowing users to browse the web, play games, video and music - it comes with your Amazon account information preloaded, along with "1-Click" ordering. That means anyone who is holding that device can place an order, whether it's their account or not. No prompts come up to confirm the purchase or ask for a password.

So that means that the itchy fingers of toddlers can click way, including the 3-year-old daughter of Scenic Labs founder Jason Rosenfeld. He says his daughter was using the device and clicked on an image of a children's product that appeared on the screen because it was in his shopping history -- he had browsed the item while holiday shopping on his PC.

"She picked it up and got it running," Rosenfeld says. After seeing the order confirmation in his email, he was able to quickly cancel the purchase.

While the $199 Kindle Fire device has been embraced as a cheaper version of Apple's iPad ($499 and up), it's designed to streamline ordering an extensive array of goods sold by Amazon.com . So, the process is simplified. Competitor Barnes and Noble , which released its Nook Tablet ($249) without the same fanfare, requires users to confirm their purchases before they go through.

In an email in response to questions from Reuters about Kindle Fire, Amazon did not address concerns about the "1-Click" ordering, but says it has provided the ability for parents to limit what their kids buy when using applications downloaded for the devices.

"We do provide customers with parental controls for purchasing in-app items," Amazon's statement says. "We're also working on adding additional parental controls."

The company also says there's no issue with shipping the devices preregistered, even though there have been reports that devices have been removed from the clearly marked boxes and used to make purchases by unauthorized users.

"Customers tell us they love that Kindle Fire arrives registered to their account and ready to go," Amazon's statement says. "Those who prefer to have their Kindle Fire arrive unregistered can select 'gift' during the checkout."

An industry analyst says he doesn't expect the concerns to hurt sales, which are projected by research firm IHS iSuppli to be close to 4 million units by year's end (less than a quarter of Apple's tablet sales, but triple Barnes and Noble's).

Because Kindle Fire is one of the hottest products this holiday season, R. J. Hottovy, director of Global Consumer Equity Research for Morningstar, says he expects that consumers will look past the security issue.

"It will probably triumph over any concerns on that end," he says.

If complaints continue, Hottovy says, it shouldn't be difficult for Amazon to add the extra purchasing step you see on most devices.

"I would expect that Amazon will add that sort of functionality to the software over time, if it becomes a bigger issue," he says.