There has been a lot fuss lately on the subject of smart toys for children and whether they are safe or not.
FBI has even issued a warning to all parents to keep an eye on the toys they are purchasing for their kids, as these internet-connected, interactive gadgets and playthings can pose serious security and privacy risks.
The reason for that is the fact that most of these toys can ‘talk’ and are equipped with microphones for that purpose. These smart toys connect to the Internet in different ways, either via Bluetooth and then to an app, or directly, via WiFi. These toys record what your child says, in order to be able to interpret it. The recordings are sent to the company in charge of the speech technology.
But these mics can be dangerous, as they might act as bugs that hear all the conversations held within a household and pass them on. These mics that are connected to a remote server transmit all the information they receive, acting like a surveillance device that records everything your child says and any other conversations in their proximity.
While we don’t necessarily have to consider the worst possible scenario, we have to be aware that the company that receives the recordings can use them any way they want to, for advertising purposes or can even pass them on to a third-party.
Moreover, these connected toys might leak important, private information like the child’s full name and address, thus facilitating ID theft.
A relevant example is the Vtech case, which happened in 2015, when the Vtech company, which develops smart interactive toys, was hacked and over 6 million user accounts were affected. Important data was leaked: full names, birthdays, street addresses and more.
FBI urges all consumers to take into consideration some recommendations regarding the purchase and use of these toys. Here are the most important ones:
- Do some research and find out as much as you can about the toy’s connection and security measures
- Find out if the toy receives firmware/software updates and security patches
- Avoid to connect the toy to any unknown, unsecure network. Try to use it only with a trusted, secure WiFi network, preferably in your own home
- When your child isn’t playing with the toy, make sure you turn it off, especially if it uses webcams and mics
- Don’t provide any additional info than required for the user account
- Consult the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) for more useful information. The COPPA is a consumer law that protects your child by imposing certain requirements and limitations on online service operators who collect online data on children under 13.