Bogus security and data risks: The reality of children's smartwatches


  • Smartwatch
  • Sunday, 26 Jan 2020

Children are better off without smartwatches, say experts, as the data security risk is still too big. — dpa

If you've ever worried about your child's safety when alone in the big, bad world – and who hasn't? – then you may have been tempted to buy them a smartwatch that lets you see where they are via GPS.

Don't, experts say – it can be massive security risk.

"You don't want the recorded location data to end up in untrustworthy hands," says Maik Morgenstern from AV-Test, an IT security institute in Germany.

As the father of a primary school child himself, he understands the temptation to track young children, but he advises against it.

It's often Asian manufacturers or unreliable tech startups that are behind these smartwatches, while well-established smartwatch makers such as Apple and Samsung don’t offer children's models.

AV-Test is currently warning consumers about one smartwatch from China, which, they say, leaves the child's sensitive data unprotected and unencrypted on the company's servers.

Names, pictures, addresses, current location – all were accessible to a team of experts from the institute.

In addition, unauthorised third parties could take over accounts comparatively easily and thus hijack the parent app so that they could see the location of the children or even contact them.

"As a layman you have basically no chance to see if a device or an app is safe," says Morgenstern.

What's more, child welfare experts warn against parents exerting too much control via smartwatches, for example by the use of so-called voice monitoring where the parent can hear the ambient sounds around the child. This is an invasion of privacy, experts say.

It can also be detrimental to the trust between parent and child and slow down their development of independence. Depending on the country, such monitoring may even be illegal.

Smartwatches offer only an illusion of security and can have negative consequences for the relationship with the child, says Cordula Lasner-Tietze, director of a child protection association in Germany.

For example, if you trust the smartwatch, you might find yourself neglecting important conversations about their social independence and where they should go on their own, she says.

As for the advertised goal of child protection, Lasner-Tietze is sceptical. "Many parents are concerned about their children being sexually assaulted," she says. "They think such a watch could help."

However, the majority of sexual assaults on children take place close to home: for example, in the family, while under adult supervision. "No app can prevent these attacks," Lasner-Tietze says.

What does work, she says, is "a trusting and open relationship between parents and children." – dpa

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