Smart toys under the Christmas tree?

If you glanced through toy catalogues in the run-up to Christmas, you undoubtedly came across some ‘smart toys’; that is, toys that are connected to the internet. BEE SECURE, the Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre, reveals the pitfalls of these devices and what to look out for when buying and selling them. 

Date 2022-01-10 Author Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic advertising/commercialism, data privacy, gaming, media literacy/education, potentially harmful content, technical settings Audience children and young people, parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
Child using a smart toy

Innovative dolls, teddy bears and robots 

There are more and more smart toys available on the market. Unlike conventional electronic toys, these devices are directly or indirectly connected to the internet. They are linked via Bluetooth or WLAN to a smartphone or router in order to control them, to use various features, and often to upload or download data onto them. This kind of toy is being increasingly used for entertaining children. It can read them stories, give them information and/or ask them questions, and even show them media content, such as photos or videos. According to the manufacturers, however, simply playing with the toy is the top priority. Certain smart toys even claim to act as a learning environment to promote cognitive and social development. 

Think carefully before you buy 

It’s certainly tempting to give one of these innovative, interactive toys as a gift. However, if you opt for a smart toy, you should first take a detailed look at its technical specifications: 

  • Check whether the toy needs permanent internet access to work properly. 
  • Also pay attention to what data the toy collects: does it record images and sound? Does it save and upload GPS data, contacts and messages via an app? 
  • Find out how data protection is handled: where the collected data is saved and whether it is disclosed to third parties, for example. Also bear in mind that this data could end up in the wrong hands in the event of a data breach or cyber-attack
  • Avoid buying toys that take advantage of security vulnerabilities, such as unprotected Bluetooth connections. Connections and user profiles should always be protected with strong passwords
  • Look into how the device is supported by the manufacturer: are software updates regularly offered? For how long will the necessary servers run? Are any costs incurred for upgrades or using an app? 

What to consider when buying second-hand devices? 

When buying used networked devices, consumers are exposed to certain additional risks: spy software, malware, wiretaps, communication with and access to other networked devices, and so on. A recent example of this is a man who fell victim to a scam after having bought a used USB ‘wallet’ for his cryptocurrency. He didn’t realise that the wallet had been tampered with, and when he set it up for the first time, he gave third parties access to his data without realising it. 

So, if you receive or purchase a device from a reseller, you can take a few measures to make it secure. Make sure, for example, that your device has the latest firmware and that this was downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. Furthermore, there are systems for WLAN routers that allow you to check the incoming and outgoing traffic in your network or boxes that enable you to secure all of your networked devices (such as a smartphone, baby monitor, and so on). 

The same applies to networked devices that you have used yourself and subsequently wish to sell. It’s very important to reset devices to their factory settings before selling them on to third parties. This measure protects both you and others. 

Informative material on smart toys 

BEE SECURE has put together some informative material so that you can find out more about what to look out for when purchasing smart toys and how to talk to your children about potential risks: 

  • Checklist: 10 things that parents should bear in mind. With this checklist, you can find out which technical features you should look out for when purchasing smart toys. 
  • Children’s story on networked toys. The picture story Bibi and the smart teddy bear provides an easy way to discuss the potential risks of smart toys with your children. 
  • Publication: smart toys - multiple facets, multiple risks. This publication introduces various types of smart toys in more detail. It also mentions other potential risks and preventive measures.

Find out more about the work of the Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe

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