FBI Issues Smart Toy Warning: Here’s What You Need to Know

FBI Issues Smart Toy Warning: Here’s What You Need to Know

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The FBI recently issued a public service announcement for parents about the dangers of toys that are connected to the Internet, known as smart toys. We consulted with an expert for tips on how to keep your family safe.
 

The consumer notice, titled "Internet-Connected Toys Could Present Privacy And Contact Concerns For Children," recently released by the FBI, states:

“The FBI encourages consumers to consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, Internet-connected toys into their homes or trusted environments. Smart toys and entertainment devices for children are increasingly incorporating technologies that learn and tailor their behaviors based on user interactions. These toys typically contain sensors, microphones, cameras, data storage components, and other multimedia capabilities—including speech recognition and GPS options. These features could put the privacy and safety of children at risk due to the large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed.”

While smart toys potentially putting the safety and privacy of children at risk is definitely cause for concern, families need not throw out each and every smart toy—but they should adopt safe use practices. So we spoke with cyber security expert and former government security consultant Shaun Murphy, CEO of sndr.com (a company that provides secure message and file sharing for businesses and individuals), for some tips on what families can do to stay safe when playing with smart toys.

6 Ways to Maintain Your Family's Safety and Privacy When Using Smart Toys

  1. Don't give the company real data about your life when signing up for the toy's online component. Perhaps the device could have your child's first name, but it should not require his or her last name. The toy should certainly never be provided with your real address and/or phone number.
     
  2. Avoid using approximate birthdays when creating passwords or answers to security questions. Only use approximate birthdays if you deem it truly necessary—avoid if possible. 
     
  3. Never connect smart toys to social networks. This can allow the service (and anyone who hacks in) to correlate your online/toy presence with your real self.
     
  4. Read the terms of service and privacy policy before you activate any Wi-Fi-related service. As tedious as it may seem, it's an important step. Check to see what the company will do with your data and third parties. Also read any indemnification clauses (a provision in a contract that notes which party will compensate the other in case of any harm, liability, or loss that occurs).
      
  5. If a toy has Wi-Fi, make sure it is turned off when you travel or when the toy is used outside of your home. Wi-Fi capable toys can keep track of location like GPS, though it's not quite as precise. Be aware that the toy can expose a rough location of your child when it is connected.
     
  6. Don't buy your children any Internet-connected toys that have a camera or microphone. Until the recent updates to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, there was little to no protection or oversight on the provided service to keep that data safe. Even if the toy company has a really good defense from outside threats, the employees inside these companies can access, store, and do whatever they want with the subsequent data. There's just too much risk in toys like this.

 

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