Modern Toys: Internet Connection Jeopardizes the Safety of Children

More and more toys are equipped with an Internet connection. What was originally intended to be smart add-on is often shown to be a threat to children.


Certainly, few parents would accept a surveillance camera in their children’s room. However, third parties can misuse modern toys with an Internet connection. Picture: Pixabay

A speaking doll, an attentive loudspeaker who listens to your music wishes, an on-line baby-monitor – more and more toys are able to connect themselves to the Internet via wireless networks. Many parents miss that, like regular computers, web-enabled devices are responsive to third Internet users if no precautionary measures are taken. A lot of manufacturers deliver their web-enabled devices with minimum safety cover to make the installation for the customers as smooth as possible. A second aspect which is still barely considered is the generation of data. Manufacturers of devices and apps collect user data in various ways without the awareness of the customers or any possibility for them to take influence in this process.

This is also valid for web-enabled toys. For the first time, the problem became apparent last February. The Federal Network Agency asked owners of the doll “My friend Cayla” to destroy it. The reason for this drastic claim: The doll could be operated via Bluetooth from a distance and microphone, and loudspeakers could be manipulated. The authority also regarded the data sent to the manufacturers as critical. All “conversations” between the children and the doll got uploaded to the producers’ server automatically and got analyzed. Moreover, the toy was also used as an advertising platform, as it informed e.g. about the recent Disney movies.

This is a very critical example, but also other devices and toys can be problematic. The EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) has now also issued a warning: “The capability of toys to collect information about their young users, to save and to transmit it, is a cause for concern.” The legislators are therefore required to create appropriate framework conditions. Only in May 2018, a new EU data protection regulation will come into force that also demands greater efforts in regards to data protection from toy manufacturers.


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