Child Safety Online: Smart Toys


'Smart toys' are becoming an increasingly popular gift for children, and with Christmas having just passed, one or two might have appeared under your tree! Smart toys, or connected toys, can range from cuddly teddies, to robots and smart watches. They are designed to connect to the internet or to a smart device to answer your children’s questions or to send and receive messages to and from family members.

However, as with all technology, there’s a chance for them to be hacked into. Many of this year’s most popular smart toys can be connected to via Bluetooth; however, these connections are often insecure and require no password, making it easy for someone with the knowhow to hack into. If the toy has a microphone and speaker, the hacker could be listening to what’s happening in your home or talking to your child through the toy. You should also be wary of toys with cameras in them, as these could also potentially be compromised for people to look through or take footage from. Some children’s smart watches include a tracking feature, which again could be hacked into to view the location of the child.

In 2017, a smart doll called My Friend Cayla was put under scrutiny when German regulators told parents to destroy the doll, as it breaks the German Telecommunications Act by being seen as a concealed espionage device. This is because of the unsecure Bluetooth connection which let anyone connect to the toy. The toy could be used to communicate through from up to 10 meters away - even through walls - and also sent copies of all the recordings it makes to a company in America that developed the AI, who use the data as they wish, as stated in their privacy policy. The doll has since been banned from sale in Germany and is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in the USA. It has also been reprimanded by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

If you already have one of these smart toys for your children, or are thinking about getting one, there are some key points you should think about:

  • Search for the toy online to see if any concerns about the security of the product have been raised and check the manufacturer of the toy to see if they have had any data breaches or security issues.
  • Does the toy require an app to be used alongside it? Make sure to check the app out to see how it works and if it needs a username and password for added security.
  • If you need to set up an account to use the toy, submit as little information about your child as possible so that if there is a data breach, minimal data is exposed.
  • Ensure you update the toy as often as possible if you can, as they may release new security patches. It’s also important to ensure you enable the appropriate security features on the toy or associated app, remembering to use strong passwords!
  • Make sure you read all the instructions that come with the toy and the T&Cs and Privacy Policy. Although these may contain a lot of information, it’s important to find out how the data is being stored, who has access to it, who is told if there is a security breach and what happens if there is one?

It’s a good idea to also double check the security of your home network, making sure you have strong passwords to your router, which will help keep hackers out of your home Wi-Fi, and in turn, out of any internet enabled toys.

Smart toys can be a great toy for your children to have, it can improve their communication skills and be educational, but, ensuring they are safe while doing so is an important step to take.

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