Last Christmas, I saw a cheeky ad that didn’t quite hit the mark. It showed a Smart Barbie that can respond to kids’ questions and movements using the internet, capture audio and video, and have chats with other devices over Bluetooth. The smart toy could use, store, process and send recordings to third parties; potentially revealing the child’s intimate thoughts and details. Isn’t privacy of children of greater importance than a smart toy which can be easily exploited? Toy companies don’t agree on the concept of smart toys being used for surveillance.
The FBI yesterday released a public service announcement (PSA) warning about smart toys with capabilities like GPS tracking, microphones, Wi-Fi, data storage and speech recognition. Normal conversation with a smart toy or in the surrounding environment could reveal a child’s name, school, activities, the FBI said.
The exposure of such information could create opportunities for child identity fraud. Additionally, the potential misuse of sensitive data such as GPS location information, visual identifiers from pictures or videos, and known interests to garner trust from a child could present exploitation risks.
Privacy Fears Over Smart Toys
Criminals could use the technology in smart toys to gather information and put children at risk of being targeted for exploitation or identity theft. The information retrieved could be used to find someone’s house or business, or even access their home network.
Back in 2015, cyber criminals hacked VTech and accessed the sensitive data of over 6.4 million children from over 15 countries. One of the most popular children’s toys of Christmas 2016, the Fisher-Price’s Smart Toy Bear, contained vulnerabilities that, if exploited could give hackers personal details about a child. Hello Barbie equipped with speech recognition technology and Wi-Fi poses the risk of recording your children’s conversations and transmitting them over the internet.
Earlier this year, Germany banned sales of a talking doll named My Friend Cayla over hacking fears. My Friend Cayla used the internet to respond to a user’s question.
The FBI encourages parents to educate themselves on the privacy and safety of children. It’s advisable to read consumer reviews and buy toys only from manufacturers they trust. It is safer to buy smart toys which have the latest security updates. In addition, parents should only buy products that use end-to-end encryption and only connect devices to secure networks.
Parents and guardians are advised to monitor children when they are using smart toys.