These days, it seems like everything around us has some type of computer chip embedded inside – even children’s toys. Gone are the days where kids played happily with Lincoln Logs or Lego sets. Now, they play with video games, iPads and so much more. Even children’s dolls often have electronic functionality, singing song to kids or letting them record their own tune at the press of a button (or, in many cases, at the press of a fluffy little paw).
While this is a great way to get your little ones acclimated to the tech-driven world that they’re about to live in, it is also something that comes with a fairly significant disadvantage – one of privacy. The FBI has recently issued a warning, for example, about Internet-connected children’s toys that are equipped with cameras, microphones and other electronic components. More specifically, they want parents to be wary of these items as you just never know when they might be recording your child without their knowledge.
The FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center
For the last several years, the FBI has developed its own internal Internet Crime Complaint Center (commonly referred to as the IC3 division) to keep an eye on Internet-related activities that could pose a threat to someone’s privacy, their health or their well-being. Recently, the IC3 division issued a warning: It is very difficult (and in certain situations impossible) for parents to know when Internet-connected children’s toys are NOT recording the events inside your home using cameras and microphones. As a result, they should be switched OFF when they’re not in use.
The idea that something inside your home might be watching or listening to you is nothing new. A few years ago, electronics manufacturer Samsung came under fire when it was revealed that many of their Internet-connected HDTV sets were listening to people at all times – even when the TV itself was switched off. Samsung argued that this was necessary so that the voice control features could be available at a moment’s notice. Privacy advocates took issue with that statement.
As well as cameras and microphones, the IC3 division said that parents need to be wary about any feature that could be used to potentially exploit a child – including toys with GPS functionality, toys that store data for undetermined periods of time, and even those with speech recognition components.
The statement was very clear on this regard, reading in part: “In some cases, toys with microphones could record and collect conversations within earshot of the device. Information such as the child’s name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment.”
The problem is that this type of personal information could be used to not only exploit the child in question, but it could also lead to issues like identity theft on behalf of the parents. When you create a new account with something like an online bank or marketplace, you are often asked for personal, identifying information for account security. If one of the answers to your security questions is your child’s birthday and someone has recorded that information via a toy in your home, you’re suddenly exposed to a world of potential problems before you even have a chance to realize that something is wrong.
Likewise, toys with GPS functionality could, in theory, be used to track the whereabouts of your child on a long-term basis, even if the toy was not actually designed for that function. Additionally, most of the data collected via these types of toys in the first place is sent to third parties for processing – meaning that you have no idea who might be paying attention. In the end, it’s best to just switch these toys OFF entirely when you’re not using them, and if you’re still worried, consider an alternative purchase.