It is a growing trend today that tech is put in the hands of kids at younger age even without us realising it and not only that the teens of today and even kids are more demanding than before and they have access to items that many of us today would have not had access to in our teenage years. Given the rise of social media apps and easier login options via the same things can go terribly wrong very fast and as parents we need to watch what is going on and what access our own kids have via the tech they have at hand. Our next guest post by Peter shares the same sentiment as me. 

Peter Bassill, CEO of Hedgehog Security, advises parents on how to ensure the interactive toys they buy their children this Christmas are safe and secure.

Peter goes on to say…

Make no mistake, the count-down to Christmas is very much on and over the coming weeks and months, children and their parents will be inundated with TV and online adverts for this year’s must-have toys.

Long gone are the days when colouring books, board games and Matchbox cars were at the top of children’s letters to Father Christmas, now it’s all about interactive action figures, console games and smart devices.

These toys are fun, captivating, and frankly incredible, but they do present potential privacy and security risks that most parents are completely unaware of. This is particularly true of interactive toys such as the My Friend Cayla doll.

Cayla connects to your WIFI network and will talk to, and interact with, those around it. It will play games via a smart device, read stories and even share photos. Sounds fun, right? But Cayla is also fitted with a camera and microphone.

The doll uses these to record conversations and take images, which are then sent via Bluetooth back to the manufacturer and, potentially, sold on to advertisers for targeted ad purposes. It’s pretty sinister stuff when you think about it.

The doll has come under intense scrutiny, and was even banned in Germany for its lack of privacy protections. It turns out anyone with a smartphone within 30 feet of the doll can connect via Bluetooth and listen to, and record, the conversations between child and toy.

 

Cayla is not alone in her capabilities, both as a fun and engaging toy and as a privacy and cyber security risk to you and your family. In fact, pretty much any smart toy has the potential to record sound and capture images, and send them back to the manufacturer.

The My Friend Cayla example covers off the main risks such dolls pose, but as a recap risks associated with interactive and smart toys include:

 

  • The toys can listen to, and record, conversations between child and toy
  • They can take and store images without you knowing
  • They can gather personal information and data
  • This data, along with images and voice recordings, can be sent back to the manufacturer
  • Toys can be hacked

 

Given that children are bombarded with advertising across all media – TV, online, social networks, etc – in the run up to Christmas, they are going to want these toys and as a parent there will be a part of you that wants to treat them at Christmas.

And you can, but you must also consider the risks they pose and what you can do to ensure your children have their privacy protected. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to do this.

The first thing to do is read the privacy policy of the manufacturer and/or toy in question. This may seem arduous at the time – they can be more complex than a classic novel – but it is important to understand what data the toy gathers and what happens to that information.

If the manufacturer does not have a privacy policy then don’t buy the toy – this gives them cart blanche to gather whatever data they like and use it in any way they wish, and that includes selling it on to third-parties.

As an extension of this, check where the toy is manufactured and the headquarters of the company that is selling and distributing it. It is often the case that those located in places such as China will not take privacy into account, let alone do anything to protect it.

It is also worth researching whether other toys from the same manufacturer have been hacked or whether they have had privacy issues in the past. If the answer is yes, then, again, avoid purchasing such toys at all costs.

Another thing to be aware of is replica toys. While they may be cheaper than the branded versions, these toys are built and sold by companies that will be unlikely to have privacy and data protection policies in place. If they don’t, steer clear of them.

By understanding the risks interactive toys pose, and what you can do to get a clear understanding of what to look for when it comes to privacy, you can ensure your children unwrap not just the best presents this Christmas, but the ones that are safe, too.

Written by Jim O Brien/CEO

CEO and expert in transport and Mobile tech. A fan 20 years, mobile consultant, Nokia Mobile expert, Former Nokia/Microsoft VIP,Multiple forum tech supporter with worldwide top ranking,Working in the background on mobile technology, Weekly radio show, Featured on the RTE consumer show, Cavan TV and on TRT WORLD. Award winning Technology reviewer and blogger. Part time actor and security professional and brutally honest when it comes to opinions.

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