Connective Toys on the Rise

Video games, app-connected toys, or programmable robots: the world of playful experience takes on a new, fascinating dimension through virtual expansion.

Boy plays with tablet and cars. Photo: Fotoli - Sharomka

The trend of the electronic toy product group is unstoppable. Photo: Fotolia – Sharomka

Since the doll “My Friend Cayla”, which was made by British manufacturer Genesis and caused a stir in 2017 as a “bug in children’s rooms”, the connectivity of toys has also become a matter of security. The smart doll Cayla was able to record sound and image data and pass it on via an internet connection. It was also possible for outsiders to connect to the toy via Bluetooth, giving them access to the doll’s microphone and camera. “What makes it so dangerous is that you would never suspect this threat from a toy. There are risks that the user or buyer can’t assess because they’re so deeply embedded in the functionality of the product or even deliberately hidden,” says Daniel Marx, Cluster manager toys at DEKRA Testing and Certification GmbH.

The Trend of the Electronic Toy Products is unstoppable

Nevertheless, the trend of the electronic toy product group is unstoppable. A separate exhibition hall has been dedicated to this toy category at the world’s largest toy fair in Nuremberg since last year. Technological innovation is communicated to adults and children through play. Educational toys such as programming building block kits combine testing, playing, and experiencing to create learning effects and are therefore indispensable in the toy industry. However, child and youth protectors criticize the lack of data protection, tracking functions that parents could use to locate their children, unsecured Bluetooth connections, or even hidden in-app buying options that this year’s toy trends bring with them.

Daniel Marx, Cluster Manager Toys. Photo: DEKRA

Daniel Marx, Cluster manager  toys. Photo: DEKRA

“Here in Europe, we have a toy directive for every toy. This directive lays down general requirements in terms of safety, such as that nothing should be possible to be torn off that could potentially be dangerous for small children, or chemical requirements,” explains Marx, adding: “In the case of digital toys, there are added dangers that aren’t laid down in the EU Toys Directive or in the corresponding standards aligned in Europe.” Damage potentially caused by internet connectivity is an indirect risk and therefore not covered by such regulations. However, if toy manufacturers want to sell a product on the European market, they must carry out a safety assessment. This must assess and evaluate risks that arise for the intended or foreseeable user.

For example, a toy intended for older children must carry a warning if it is not safe for younger children. “A manufacturer must be able to demonstrate the conformity of a toy with the requirements of the Toys Directive. To do so, he must go through a conformity assessment procedure,” the cluster manager explains. Larger manufacturers have the option of producing this and the accompanying documentation in their own laboratories. Smaller companies can draw on the external expertise of DEKRA Testing and Certification. In the USA, on the other hand, toy manufacturers have a testing obligation, which they must fulfill with the help of an accredited laboratory.

Manufacturers are responsible for their products

For manufacturers, this results in diverse risk assessment. According to Marx, this complexity can be countered with expertise from various fields. “The opportunities offered by a global group such as DEKRA can be used to bring all faculties on board, such as IT experts, data protection specialists, and test engineers.” The desire of consumers and also manufacturers for innovations and the use or integration of new technology is understandable. The spread of smartphones and tablets makes it possible to use them as sub-platforms, for example to control toys. At the same time, manufacturers must bear in mind that they will always remain responsible for their product. Of course, the consideration of indirect risks is a theoretical one, “but it’s precisely such things that manufacturers must take into account when considering risks.”

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