Smart toy demand continues to grow prompting concerns for child safety | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

COLORADO SPRINGS — Some of the most popular items on Christmas lists this year are smart devices and smart toys. Things with microphones, cameras, connectivity, location trackers and more. The demand for smart toys is increasing by billions of dollars again this year and the smart toy industry is projected to double in size by 2027.

Consumer watchdogs say when it comes to safety with these toys they are concerned about strangers connecting to these devices and the information they can collect on our kids.

I spoke with Danny Katz of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, the consumer watchdog group behind the 2023 Trouble in Toyland report. He shared some of the examples of smart toys they found potential issues with, starting with a bluetooth capable karaoke microphone.

”When we got it out of the package and we opened it up, it automatically connected to our Bluetooth on our phones, which at the moment felt very convenient. But then, when I was thinking about it, I realized if it just automatically connects to my phone then it could automatically connect to another phone,” said Katz.

He urges gift givers to also be careful when it comes to walkie talkies.

”These are walkie talkies that are advertised to have a range of up to 3 miles. But again, when I turned these on, I bought them to test and I turned them on and within two minutes I was hearing other people talking,” Katz showed me.

He then explained how interactive smart toys can even learn information about our kids as they play with them.

“This is an example of a toy of a dinosaur that’s set up for your kid to talk to and communicate with. When you read the privacy policies on this dinosaur, though, it warns parents that this Dino may collect information that could conceivably identify your kid,” said Katz.

Holiday wish lists for kids may be filled with stuffed animals that listen and talk, devices that learn their habits, games with online accounts, or that require downloading an app.

Thomas Russell at the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs says with the constant threat of hackers and fraudsters, these smart toy concerns are warranted.

“A lot of folks do not know the implications of some of the toys that they buy and are giving their kids. A lot of times to be honest, they’re not monitoring like they should,” warned Russell.

The threat to our kids could be close to home.

”Some of these toys remain in a discoverable mode, meaning that if their child turns that on when they are not around, there’s a possibility that someone nearby will be able to access that toy and depending on what the toy is, could communicate with them,” said Russell.

Or it can come from anywhere in the world with someone looking to get into your new tech and online accounts.

”Think about this. We have AI now that can go through billions of bits of information in a second,” said Russell. “If you have a password that is not robust, Guess what? Those same AI technologies being used for good can also be used to crack your password.”

Many families may enjoy these smart toys and see the benefits, but it’s important to read reviews and do research before giving them as gifts. Ultimately, Russell says it’ll be a better experience for everyone if there’s an open conversation about the responsibility that comes with smart toys.

“They give the kids these items and they go oh, that’s babysitting for me,” warned Russell. “If they actually sit down and they talk to their kids, their kids will listen to them. And they can tell them the dangers of this. So that makes a huge difference for parents to be involved directly with their kids and let the kids know, like, hey. You know you’re not on your own. I’m watching you. I’m guiding you through this.”

The 2023 Trouble in Toyland reporthas a full Q&A checklist to help you decide if a smart toy and its capabilities are safe and appropriate for your family.


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