Spying Smart Toys: How To Keep Your Kids Safe

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The FBI advises consumers to use caution and do proper research and vetting before purchasing a connected toy.
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

In the era of modern conveniences where Amazon’s Alexa is ready to play any song or order you laundry pods and also collect an immense amount of data on your life, we should not forget these same technologies are making their way to children’s toys. Bluetooth, voice recognition, and other cutting-edge technologies are now bundled into the mechanics of what appear to be seemingly innocent toys.

The most controversial and prominent example is the My Friend Cayla doll. Cayla is an American made doll that lights up and can speak back to children and respond to questions like other voice technology connected to Bluetooth. The doll’s ability to connect to the Internet and its Bluetooth capability has brought pause in foreign countries.

Germany has banned the doll and states that ownership of the doll is illegal. German officials believe that because the doll collects and transmits everything it hears to a voice recognition company in the United States, it actually is essentially spying and collecting the private information of families.

The problem is that the Cayla doll is not just one outlandish example. Other toys that connect to the Internet include the child aimed Q50 Smart Watch, a Star Wars droid, a Wi-Fi enabled Barbie Doll and even a connected Furby. Any smart toy can be vulnerable to hackers if it is connected to the Internet.

The major problem with toys such as Cayla is that hackers can literally connect via Bluetooth and listen in on conversations with it, or even actually have a conversation with the child through the doll. These fears have pushed the FBI into issuing warnings to parents considering the purchase of Internet connected toys.

The FBI warns that the microphones could collect information such as the child’s name, interests, the name of their school, or any other information that could make them vulnerable. The warning additionally states with the companies collecting data, if exposed, anyone who accesses the information could use it to try garner trust from the child creating exploitation risks. They advise consumers to use caution and do proper research and vetting before purchasing a connected toy.

The FBI also advises that in the event of using one of these toys only use the toys in areas with trusted and secured Internet access. Bluetooth devices often do not have pin or passcode requirements, so it is important to try to setup some sort of protection if using this technology. Make sure the toys software updates and security updates are always most up to date. When the toy is not in use, make sure to turn it off and disable the microphone. Use strong passwords and only provide the bare minimum information to the device. Lastly, of course, monitor your child’s interactions with the toy closely.

Technology is a great gift and we should certainly make sure our children are familiar enough to navigate the modern world, however, it is vital to balance out the more important burden of keeping your child safe at all costs. So, as if you needed more to stress about as a parent, you can add the dangers of high tech toys to the list along with caution about video content consumed by kids and the texts they are sending to friends.

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