Long gone are the days when a simple wooden train and some imagination would turn into hours of entertainment and playtime, just like when teddy bears served only to hug and Barbie would have only the life and voice their girly owners wanted them to have. Technology came to change the world and if there’s an area where its impact is heavily noticed it is surely in the toy industry. Remote controlled drones have replaced the old little warplanes we would carry in our hand and point at the sky, much like how teddy bears and dolls are now equipped with microphones, cameras, GPS coordinates, cloud services and more to make them feel as alive as possible, even maintaining a basic conversation with the children of today.
This would be perfectly fine and their natural evolution if it weren’t for the security and privacy flaws most of these smart toys have, that can put children’s identities in the hands of hackers far too easily. In fact, because this is such a serious matter that is sadly only likely to increase, the FBI issued a privacy warning explaining just how smart toys can be a risk.
When Their Best Friends Spy on Them
It is somewhat common to see privacy companies issuing statements warning about the dangers of a service – or a toy in this case – but unfortunately these can only go so far. But if an agency such as the FBI is issuing these same statements then this gives everything a greater sense of importance, which only proves how significant and critical such a topic is.
In an advisory comment posted on the Bureau’s website, the agency warns about how internet connected toys can pose a threat to the children given the capabilities these gadgets have of disclosing personal information. Not long ago we reported on a story about how smart stuffed animals equipped with microphones and a poorly protected cloud-based service allowed a digital security expert to collect nearly 2.2 million unencrypted voice recordings. Also, who doesn’t remember the infamous case of My Friend Cayla that led to the doll being banned in Germany? When a Bluetooth connection was left unprotected and nothing else was encrypted, the doll was hacked and the perpetrator could make it say whatever they wanted to the child through the toy’s microphone.
This is exactly what the FBI is addressing in its advisory published, as children are unable to understand how an innocent conversation between them and their toys can have harmful consequences if they end up in the hackers’ hands. Information such as their age, what school they attend, their likes and dislikes are only some of the details a child might say to his favorite stuffed friends. Moreover, even if they are not the chattiest of children, many toys now require log in information and build profiles of their young users, but because they’re just toys few parents pay the appropriate attention to this, providing them with easy passwords.
Just because the FBI said that this kind of devices is a threat, it doesn’t mean you should totally avoid offering them to your kids. In fact, every device connected to the internet is vulnerable and although you’re conscious about such dangers when using your phone, for example, that doesn’t mean you will stop using it or throw it away, will you? Like any other aspect of their life, a proper education on internet usage is almost mandatory today and if they’re too young to understand that, take some time to analyze these new kind of toys and opt for the ones that are safer.
In addition, because even websites meant for kids can be used against them, one of the best alternatives is to invest in a VPN router. This way do not only you protect your entire home network ensuring that you can circumvent geo-restrictions and access the best content but the online experience of your youngest ones will also be safer and anonymous.