Are internet-connected toys safe Christmas presents for kids? Maybe not, says FTC

Stock image | Photo by Vinnstock/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

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.

Stock image courtesy of Max Pixel, St. George News

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.

My Friend Cayla Doll image courtesy of Genesis Toy Company, i-Que Robot image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. | Composite image, St. George News

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.

Read more: 2 toys that may be spying on your kids; FTC complaint filed

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.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • DRT December 8, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    For the love of God, get your kids off those electronic toys and get them outside playing.

  • Kilroywashere December 8, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    DRT I couldnt agree more. Add to that young children using video games. The dopamine reward system of the brain becomes regulated by computer algorithms. Creativity and right brain functions are diminished by lack of motivation over time in lieu of the video game instant feedback of simulated rewards. Baseball, coloring books, legos, blocks, basketball, skateboarding. musical instruments, dancing, even playing with nerf guns are a better alternative until the brain has developed sufficiently.

    • KR567 December 9, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Yep .shut that T.V off and unplug those laptops and put the cellphones away and gets those kids outside..
      now you can say that all day long. as long as your not in the household where both parents have to work to make ends meet or not one of those single parents working 2 jobs to ends meet

      anybody can dish out free advice

      • Comment December 9, 2018 at 2:07 pm

        “Striker” is thoroughly addicted to video games. Thank goodness YOU ARE “in a household where both parents have to work to make ends meet” so you can stay in the basement and play video games ALL DAY. LOL 😉

  • Comment December 9, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how screwed up kids become that are raised in the modern hyper-connected electronic culture with all these devices. Maybe they’ll all turn out just fine. But it does seem that everyone is being dumbed down by all this electronic crap. Seems to be a lot of drug addictions and suicides these days though. So who knows…

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