Juniper Research estimated in 2018 that revenues from smart or Internet-connected toys would increase almost 200 percent to $18 billion by 2023. The increase would be driven by sales of smartphone-connected toys and related in-app purchases.
Experts say that smart toys are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks. Kayne McGladrey, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said their desire to keep toy prices low means manufacturers have little incentive to add reasonable security mechanisms. Bree Fowler, cybersecurity editor at Consumer Reports, said, “Toys are basically the poster child for bad security in IoT.” IoT is the Internet of Things. Unlike companies such as Nest and Google that have huge security departments, toy manufacturers aren’t tech companies.
In January 2018, the FTC settled its first children’s privacy case involving Internet-connected toys. It alleged that VTech Electronics, a manufacturer of electronic toys, allowed its Kid Connect app to collect personal information on hundreds of thousands of children without providing proper notice to parents or getting their consent as required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
In settling the case, the acting FTC chairman said, “As connected toys become increasingly popular, it’s more important than ever that companies let parents know how their kids’ data is collected and used and that they take reasonable steps to secure that data.”
The FTC just issued advice for what questions to ask before buying an Internet-connected toy this holiday season. It starts with understanding what the toy’s features are, including whether it has a camera or microphone. If so, what will it record and will you know when the camera or microphone is on? Indiana University researchers discovered a security flaw that allowed them to gain access to the camera in the nose of a toy bear manufactured by a well-known toy company. They said parents might not even know the camera was in operation.
Understand whether the toy lets your child send emails or connect to social media accounts. Such communications are generally transmitted to the manufacturer, developer, or a third-party that may store the information. The German government banned a doll it said hackers could use to steal personal information transmitted over an unsecure Bluetooth connection.
The FTC and BBB recommend you ask these additional questions:
- Can you control the toy and be involved in its setup and management? Understand the controls, options and default settings.
- When your child plays with the toy, what kind of information does it collect?
- Where are pictures, recordings, and other pieces of data stored and shared? Who has access to the information? Is it secure and does the toy company give you a way to see and delete it?
Randy Hutchinson is the president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South. Reach him at 901-757-8607.
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