Toys that ‘spy’ on children are an increasing threat, watchdog warns

Toys that ‘spy’ on children are an increasing threat, watchdog warns

Toys that “spy” on children are a rising, “frightening” threat, a new study from a consumer watchdog has warned.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund noted that certain toys that record children’s voices, images, locations and other information pose a risk to children’s safety and privacy.

The organization also noted that an increasing number of toys are utilizing technological features — even when they do not appear to be doing so.

“It’s chilling to learn what some of these toys can do,” Teresa Murray, co-author of the “Trouble in Toyland 2023” report, said in a statement.

“Smart toys can be useful, fun or educational, but interacting with some of them can create frightening situations for too many families.” 

The global market for smart toys grew to $16.7 billion this year from $14.1 billion last year, according to a large market research firm, and is predicted to more than double by 2027.

The consumer watchdog noted that certain toys that record children’s voices, images, locations and other information pose a risk to children’s safety and privacy.
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However, experts are sounding the alarm warning that those technological toys are becoming an increasing security risk to children, as some have been caught improperly collecting and storing data — and even being hacked.

The growing threat of AI has also infiltrated the toy industry as this advanced, still experimental technology is being integrated into products advertised for children as young as 3 years old.

The agency advises shoppers to research the products on a child’s wish list “before buying a toy with a microphone, a camera, a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection or any ability to collect information about young children.”

The report comes after the Federal Trade Commission accused Amazon of violating federal children’s privacy laws through its Alexa service by keeping the voice recordings of children, horror stories of hackers speaking to children through their baby monitors and an 11-year-old girl was kidnapped by a man she met through the online gaming platform Roblox.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund recommends gift-givers make sure they understand the technological capabilities of the toy, do a web search for the toy to read reviews of the product and research the toy manufacturer to check for a history of troubling violations.

Some of toys have been caught improperly collecting and storing data and even being hacked.
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The agency advises shoppers to research the products on a child’s wish list.
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Questions to ask when shopping:

  • What features make this product a smart toy?
  • Does it have a secure Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection?
  • Does the toy allow the child to connect to the internet and send emails or connect to social media?
  • Does it have a microphone or camera? If so, when will it record and how will you know?
  • What is the toy’s privacy policy? What information is it collecting? How is it stored and used?
  • Who has access to the data collected?
  • Does the toy manufacturer have a history of troubling violations?

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