Christmas is coming and it’s quite possible you are considering to buy a smart toy for your kid, niece/nephew, or any other kid that’s special to you. While smart toys are cute, don’t forget about their dark side. You must know the privacy and security risks associated with smart toys and think twice if the risks are worth the benefit.
1. Privacy and Security Risks of Smart Toys
Every now and then, some organization issues a warning to parents about the dangers of Internet-connected toys for kids. But when the FBI warns you about these, you’d better listen. You might not believe that a smart toy is a computer in disguise or that smart toys spy on your kids, but unfortunately this is so.
If a smart toy can connect to the Internet, consider the dangers associated with it similar to the ones of a kid using a computer. The toy can record and send data. This data can include recorded conversations and activities, information about where the kid lives, goes to school, etc, his or her likes and dislikes, as well as information about his or her family.
2. Does My Kid Really Need a Smart Toy?
In terms of privacy, smart toys sound like a horror movie, but with the right measures, you can minimize the risk. However, I need to explicitly state that you can minimize the risk, but not eliminate it completely.
Therefore, you need to decide if in your particular case the risk is worth or not. Unfortunately, nobody can answer this question for you. You know your child best – if you think he or she is hard to control, or that you won’t be able to ensure the safe use of the toy, then maybe it’s best not to get him or her a smart toy at all.
Two basic factors for your decision whether to buy a smart toy or not are the kid’s age and how he or she will use the toy. With pre-school kids, you should never allow the use of the toy without supervision. With school kids, you should also exercise control but the older they get, the more they will know about how to protect themselves. In fact, the 8 year old niece of a friend of mine knows more about security than her Mommy dearest.
It’s not that a kid’s life depends on getting a smart toy or not, so you might decide to be safe rather than sorry and not buy at all. In rare cases this might be the wisest option but basically you don’t have to go to extremes. If you don’t get your child smart toys and all his or her friends have, this will make him or her feel isolated. You just need to be very careful what you buy, take the right protective measures and you are more or less safe.
3. How to Protect Your Kid from Smart Toys
If you have decided that the risk is worth it, here are some precautions to take:
- Before you buy, research online if there is info about security and privacy risks reported about the toy of your choice.
- Research what kind of data the toy gets and how it’s stored.
- Never connect the toy to unsecured wireless networks.
- Always turn off and disconnect the toy when not in use.
- Don’t allow unsupervised use of the toy, especially with younger kids.
- Choose strong and unique passwords and provide as minimal personal data as possible (i.e. don’t disclose address, birthday, personal likes and dislikes, unless really necessary and only when you absolutely trust the manufacturer).
As you see, some of the tips are just common security measures, which you most likely apply to any application and piece of hardware you use, so you don’t have to do something very special in order to ensure the safe use of a smart toy.
While smart toys do come with privacy and security risks, in most cases you can ensure their safe use. In the rare cases you can’t, it’s better not to buy a smart toy. Your kid will be disappointed for sure but if you really think you can’t manage the risks, better be safe than sorry.