Attack of the Furbies
It’s more and more common to see children and toddlers with smart toys, phones, tablets or iPads. This isn’t a new phenomenon - children are always attached to something, before there were phones and tablets, there were board games and Pokemon cards. The difference this time is the level of security - and the potential threat if that security is breached.
Phones and tablets are, however, usually well-monitored by parents who can restrict internet access and monitor what their child has been doing. But what about more sinister forms of data collection? More and more toys are being released that have features that allow them to record voices, speak back to children and even ‘see’ some aspects of what’s going on. They tend to connect to the internet or bluetooth and store data in the cloud, which can then be accessed later.
CloudPets are a brand of toys for children that are animals fitted with a microphone and speaker, allowing kids to record their own messages or those from family members and play them later. But - this all happens via a bluetooth connected app. It was eventually revealed that all of the recordings were being stored in an unprotected location, and in fact had already been accessed and even held ransom.
And this isn’t the only occasion. The Teksta Toucan, a device from Genesis Toys, was tested for security by independent researchers, who found that as the speaker and microphone were accessible via an app, anyone nearby connected to bluetooth could find and connect to Texta Toucan. Genesis Toys also developed My Friend Cayla - a doll which recorded what children said to it - and could also be remotely listened to by anyone with a bluetooth connection. My Friend Cayla has actually been banned in Germany due to this flaw.
This is potentially a parents’ worst nightmare - someone outside the house or near your child, able to listen to their plans and activities through their toy - what time they go to school, what time they get picked up, when they’re alone. As well as the potential danger, you have a lot of valuable information being collected - what your child likes and doesn’t like, what attracts them, how they buy things, and so on. All without anyone's permission.
So the big question becomes, how do you keep your children and yourself safe from smart toys? Well, a secure internet connection is the first step. Turning the toy off when not in use, not connecting to unsecured or public networks, and not using the toy alone can all help. Research new updates or patches and stay up to date with posts and activity online. However, until there are better regulations in place for these kinds of toys, it may be best to just stick to the board games and Pokemon cards.