The days of children asking for the simplest of toys as presents for holidays have largely disappeared. Instead, the digital age has brought forth a variety of technological gadgets grabbing the interest of toddlers, pre-teens and teenagers alike. Switching gears from playing cards and coloring books, the children of the modern world are now more interested in the latest ‘smart toys’, however, these toys are beginning to present possible inherent dangers. As in the case of many technological devices, toys employing tech-savvy components, like the cloud, are now known to be at risk of hacking. Although these toys offer many interactive elements, enabling children to communicate with their possessions, researchers are now questioning the safety behind these exchanges. Information Sharing Hazards Ultimately, the thought is that by transferring information to hackers regarding the children physically playing with these toys, the hackers will then be able to use this information for malicious purposes. For example, in the case of the new, interactive Hello Barbie, NBC Chicago reported in November 2015 that security researcher, Matt Jakubowski, discovered a flaw in the toy’s software that could allow hackers to pinpoint doll owners’ home addresses “I was able to get some data out of it that I probably shouldn’t have,” Jakubowski told NBC Chicago. “You can take that information and find someone’s house or business.” Additionally, the fear exists that children may share information with the doll concerning when their parents are home or where they go to school. Thus, a hacker could use this information to organize a kidnapping or home burglary. So, as an increasing number of toys become assessable to internet access and even require its usage, more data breaches will undoubtedly come to affect children and adolescents. For this reason, adults must make it a priority to discuss the potential dangers of the internet with their children, informing them of smart cyber security practices. With that being said, here are five important interactive toy safety tips to help protect your children:
- If possible, monitor the information being stored in the cloud. Although you may not want to share with your child that you have access, possibly breaking their trust, monitoring this content could shed light into potential problems a child may be having. This technique may also give you a better sense of what information they are presenting to the toy with the possibility of being hacked.
- Discuss with your child the type of conversations he or she has with an interactive device. This will further open communication pathways between you and your child, and again, offer insight into what types of information he or she is sharing virtually.
- Establish strong home Wi-Fi passwords. Many interactive toys use Wi-Fi to work, and are only capable of being hacked by someone who can breach into a network. By establishing a strong password, this makes it more difficult for hackers to gain access to a home Wi-Fi network.
- Thoroughly read a toy’s terms of conditions. According to CNET, a Hong Kong toymaker subsequently changed the terms and conditions of its products, limiting its liability “for the acts of third parties,” it said in a statement. By making sure a toy company remains liable for breaches, a parent can typically better trust the product.
- Talk to your child about the importance of cyber security. While toys offer companionship, it’s never a bad idea to find a way to explain to your child that the toy stores information online. Go over basic internet safety protocols and explain some of the dangers of engaging in online use. For specific internet safety tips for children and teens, visit the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s website.