Smart Toys Can Put Your Child’s Privacy, Safety at Risk

Monitor and Research “Smart Toys” to Protect Your Kids

Cuddly smart toys may open the door to hackers looking for personal information.
Your four-year-old is too young for Facebook or Instagram, so you might think they are protected from the data miners, marketing hawks or hackers that grab personal information at every turn. But what happens when your kid uses a talking doll? Or your baby monitor connects to Wi-Fi? It’s hard to perceive smart toys as a potential threat, but if it connects to the internet, the risks are the same.

Hidden Dangers in Happy Memories

In the last few years, “smart” or “connected” toys have exploded onto the scene, creating a market that is estimated to be worth $18 billion by 2023. This has included toys that have failed to protect kids’ information or actively spied on them. Here are just a few examples:

  • CloudPets is a smart stuffed animal line that allows recorded messages to be sent to children via Bluetooth. In 2017 it was reported that not only could someone easily hack into a CloudPet and record anything a child might say, but also the manufacturer, Spiral Toys, did not protect consumer information and compromised more than 800,000 customer emails and passwords.
  • The MiSafe smartwatch, which is supposed to be used to track the movements and activities of kids, neither encrypted the data they used nor secured each child’s account. This meant that anyone could access the location of users, listen to them via the microphone and even make bogus calls disguised as coming from a parent.
  • An interactive doll named “My Friend Cayla” was banned in Germany after officials realized it collected and transmitted everything it heard to a voice recognition company in the United States.
  • One couple heard an unknown voice scream, “Wake up, baby!” over their baby monitor. When they rushed into their child’s room to find the perpetrator, they found that the monitor had been hacked and a stranger was watching their child.
  • An app called Pet Chat, found on LeapFrog tablets, allowed hackers to track a kid’s location and send personal messages as a “pet.”

Protecting Your Kids’Privacy

Each app on a tablet can have unique security settings. Monitor all apps for safety.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a smart tablet or toy, you should do so with privacy as a priority. Check out Consumer Reports or Privacy Not Included before purchasing any toy or gadget that connects to the internet. If you do decide to make a purchase, follow these tips to keep children as safe as possible:

  • Research the toy before purchase. Read online reviews and manufacturer websites
  • Read the privacy policy and manual closely to make sure you understand what information a device stores or shares
  • Only connect toys to a trusted and secured Wi-Fi network
  • Change the manufacturer’s default username and password as soon as you turn it on
  • Manage the security settings on each specific app, not just the tablet itself
  • Avoid providing specific information on your child, including details like pet names and birth dates
  • Update all software when needed
  • Turn the toy off when not in use
  • If purchasing a toy online, only use secure sites
  • Check that location tracking is turned off
  • Talk to your children about how to stay safe in online spaces and keep private information to themselves