ST. GEORGE — The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning that internet-connected toys could pose threats to children due to the massive amount of personal information that may be unknowingly revealed by these devices.
While internet-connected toys have opened up a whole new set of possibilities for children to learn and experience, they also run the risk of being hacked by criminals.
Toys that connect to the internet are equipped with microphones, GPS tracking, Wi-Fi and sensors that could be giving criminals access to private information about children and their families that could lead to identity theft or worse, the Federal Trade Commission said in an advisory released Thursday.
“More importantly, they have the added horror of potentially pointing a microphone or camera at your child,” Wired Magazine’s security expert Brian Barrett said.
Barrett also cautions parents that any smart toy that uses a camera to detect certain things like colors is likely always watching. And it may not be clear under what circumstances it communicates what it sees, hears or stores over the internet.
Many of these “smart toys” know the child’s voice and can also silently collect data on each interaction. These toys can potentially even share the child’s location while they play, according to the FTC.
According to an FBI statement released in 2017, toys installed with microphones can record or collect conversations and information, including a child’s name, school, activities, likes and dislikes.
Concerns about security are valid, as numerous cyber breaches reported over the last year have clearly shown.And if banks and financial institutions are vulnerable to being hacked, it follows that toys are vulnerable to similar risks.
In fact, in March 2017, a line of internet-connected teddy bears known as “CloudPets” left 2 million messages recorded by the furry toys that were exposed in an online database where anyone could have listened to them. An additional 800,000 emails and passwords were also exposed.
In another case, A complaint was filed with the FTC against the Genesis Toy company in 2016 that claimed that the My Friend Cayla Doll and the i-Que Intelligent Robot “subjected young children to ongoing surveillance” and violated privacy and consumer protection laws.
The FTC encourages parents to educate themselves on how a device actually works before making the purchase.
“If you can’t find information on how a smart toy collects, shares, or secures your kids’ data, think about buying something else,” the advisory states.
Before buying, do homework
- Have there been security issues or recalls reported for this smart toy? Search online for the toy’s name, the company that makes it, plus the words “complaint,” “security” and “privacy.”
- What do watchdog and safe harbor groups have to say about it? Many offer smart toy recommendations.
Understand the smart toy’s features
- Does the toy come with a camera or microphone? What will it be recording, and will you know when the camera or microphone is on?
- Are you OK with a toy that sends email to your child or connects to social media accounts?
- Can parents control the toy and be involved in its setup and management?
For more information, visit the FTC’s Protecting Kids Online web page.
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