Children talk to their toys as if they’re really listening, sometimes confiding in dolls and stuffed animals.
Now toys are actually listening. And remembering.
This holiday season, shoppers can buy “smart toys,” internet connected playthings equipped with microphones, cameras, and the ability to collect reams of data about children.
Consumer advocates warn the toys pose privacy and security risks for kids. Security experts have shown smart toys can be easily hacked, and toy makers have taken heat for major data breaches and sharing personal information with third parties. Examples include a doll banned in Germany for recording children and a teddy bear with a hackable camera.
Smart toys seemingly come to life utilizing “Internet of Things” [IoT] technology that has wirelessly connected coffeemakers, thermostats, and yes, toilets. But smart toys have proven to be particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks. Manufacturers try to keep toy prices low and lack an incentive to add reasonable security mechanisms, said Kayne McGladrey, director of security and IT at the Seattle-based engineering and design firm, Pensar Development.
“Toys are basically the poster child for bad security in IoT,” said Bree Fowler, cybersecurity editor at Consumer Reports. “Nest and Google, they have huge security departments. They can actually sink some cash into security when they build things if they choose to. Toys don’t really have that background. They’re not tech companies.”
The FBI warned consumers last year that smart toys raise “concerns for privacy and physical safety” of children. The potential risks range from hackers eavesdropping on kids to stealing a child’s identity. The mining of sensitive data such as GPS location, pictures or videos, and known interests all could aid kidnappers, the FBI wrote.
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