Almost a decade has passed since the arrival of Furby, which made quite a splash on the children’s toys market. That was just the beginning. Now, Christmas serves as a time to usher in new companions that, of course, come with their respective apps and are able to have full conversations, as though they were alive. The Internet of Things has come to the toy store.
This new brand of entertainment carries along with it certain privacy risks for children. In fact, a recent study carried out by the Scandinavian consultancy Bouvet demonstrates how certain technologies included in modern toys connected to the Internet could present some danger.
According to the study, the Cayla doll and the robot i-Que, two American toys that are also available in a few European countries, are far from being the ideal entertainment for the kids.
For starters, they come with a voice recognition system enabling them to hold a conversation with their young owners. Built by the American company Nuance Communications, this system records the children’s speech at all times and sends it to the company, which stockpiles the audio data.
Apart from this unsettling surveillance of children, these toys pose another risk. According to the study, these products employ surreptitious advertising. Bouvet discovered that, over the course of conversations, the toys talk about other products, such as specific animation films.
As if that wasn’t enough, the investigators also discovered that the toys are able to be manipulated and that cybercriminals could hack them to cut into conversations with children or steal the conversations being recorded.
However, these aren’t the first incidents that have triggered alarms when it comes to smart toys. In fact, some companies have been adapting children’s entertainment to devices for over half a decade, not without certain risks. Just a year ago, the seventh installment of Star Wars came to toy stores with the BB-8, a friendly robot that you could control from a smartphone. Shortly after, it was revealed that this toy could be hacked and hijacked by a cyber assailant.
Last Christmas, even Barbie herself was accused of posing a danger to children. An interactive doll able to converse with humans and improve itself with automatic learning, the Hello Barbie continuously listened to what children were saying in an espionage fluke that parents and associations didn’t find very funny.
Santa Claus will have to double check the things he places under the tree this year. For starters, we should assume that to some degree all smart toys collect at least some data from our children. Before purchasing a toy connected to the Internet of Things, check consumer reports to see if there are any known vulnerabilities. And most of all, enjoy your holidays without worry.