Danger Toys

December 6, 2017

It’s everything a kid ever dreamed of — toys that can talk back. But are internet-connected toys safe?

An article by ABC technology reporter Ariel Bogle, says that depending on its capabilities, the toy could be recording voice messages, internet history and location data.

From board games to rubber duckies, these playthings are becoming connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and apps, wrote Ms Bogle.

A doll with speech recognition, for example, is only possible thanks to sensors, microphones and online data storage.

Dr Robert Merkel, a software engineering lecturer at Monash University, who occasionally posts pictures of his nearly two-year-old daughter on Facebook, finds it difficult to recommend anyone buy a smart toy, according to Ms Bogler’s article.

“If it’s got a microphone in it, would you be comfortable with that microphone being on in your house, potentially 24 hours a day?” he is quoted as asking.

Concerns about the security of the smart toys was raised by the FBI in the US earlier this year when it warned parents about the privacy and security risks posed by internet-connected toys.

The Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued a consumer notice aimed at encouraging “consumers to consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes or trusted environments”.

Many of these high-tech toys can carry on a conversation, which requires a microphone. It’s very possible — even likely — the IC3 says, that those mics could be listening to any, not just playtime chatter.

If the toys hear something, there’s a good chance they’re also transmitting that data to a remote server.

Another risk the IC3 wants parents to be aware of is that personally identifiable information (PII) about their children could be collected. If a connected toy happens to leak details like the child’s name, physical address, phone number, that creates an opportunity for identity theft.

Leaked GPS data (say, on geotagged photos that are uploaded) could allow someone to pinpoint your child’s physical location.

The IC3 offers several tips for ensuring that your children remain safe when they’re playing with connected toys. A few key points are:

  • Only connect and use toys in environments with trusted and secured Wi-Fi Internet access
  • Closely monitor children’s activity with the toys (such as conversations and voice recordings) through the toy’s partner parent application, if such features are available
  • Carefully read disclosures and privacy policies

It may be difficult for some parents to believe that simply playing toys could have such disastrous consequences, but the risk is very real… and the leaks are already happening.

One U.S. toy maker was caught leaking all kinds of data — including private photos — of the kids that played with their toys.

In February, the German government took the extraordinary step of banning an Internet-connected doll over concerns that it could be hacked and used to spy on children.any of these high-tech toys can carry on a conversation, which requires a microphone.

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