Is your child being watched? The hidden dangers of smart toys

  • TECH
  • Monday, 24 Dec 2018

FILED - Parents should study all the information on data storage and use before buying a smart toy, consumer protection groups advise. Photo: Jochen Luebke/dpa

Whether it's a talking teddy bear or a robot that learns through artificial intelligence, interactive toys are increasingly popular with kids. But have you ever wondered what happens to the data they collect, and who can access it? 

Parents need to do their homework before buying any toy with a camera or microphone, according to German consumer organisation Verbraucherzentrale Niedersachsen. 

At the very least, they should check that the camera or microphone can be deactivated – otherwise, it could be making undetected or constant video and audio recordings without their knowledge. 

Most microphones and cameras can be deactivated via a control app, but preferably also by using switches on the toy. 

It can be helpful to visit the manufacturer's website, where you will often find the right instructions. 

Parents should also study all the information on data storage and use before making a purchase, the consumer protection group advises. This will tell them whether and where data is stored. 

They should also search the privacy statement to find out what information the manufacturer collects and for what purpose, so that they don't end up unintentionally revealing too much information about themselves or their children. 

Even if a toy is not directly connected to the Internet, users should bear in mind that data could be transferred to the manufacturer via a control app. 

Access to networked toys should also be properly secured. This means, for example, that in the case of a Bluetooth connection between a control app on a smartphone and the toy, it should be possible to protect the connection by entering a changeable PIN so that strangers cannot hijack the toy or come into contact with the child playing with it. 

Often, however, there's just a simple pre-set PIN that can't be changed. Or even worse: the toy automatically connects via Bluetooth to smartphones or tablets in the vicinity. 

To ensure that the connection can be protected, the consumer group advises parents to take a look at the manufacturer's website and operating instructions before making a purchase. – dpa

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