Smart toys and entertainment devices for children are increasingly incorporating technologies that learn and tailor their behaviours 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 a large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed.
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 collection of a child’s personal information combined with a toy’s ability to connect to the Internet or other devices raises concerns for privacy and physical safety. Personal information (e.g., name, date of birth, pictures, address) is typically provided when creating user accounts. In addition, companies collect large amounts of additional data, such as voice messages, conversation recordings, past and real-time physical locations, Internet use history, and Internet addresses/IPs. The exposure of such information could create opportunities for child identity fraud.
Channel 7 News ran a brief segment on the issue where an 11-year-old boy “shocked” a panel of security experts by hacking into a smart toy via a hacked Wi-Fi admin account. The segment is here.
It raises the issue of all Internet-connected devices – loosely termed the Internet of Toys (IoT).
The FBI advises:
- Research for any known reported security issues online to include, but not limited to:
- Only connect and use toys in environments with trusted and secured Wi-Fi Internet access
- Research the toy’s Internet and device connection security measures
- Use authentication when pairing the device with Bluetooth (via PIN code or password)
- Use encryption when transmitting data from the toy to the Wi-Fi access point and to the server or cloud
- Research if your toys can receive firmware and/or software updates and security patches
- If they can, ensure your toys are running on the most updated versions and any available patches are implemented
- Research where user data is stored – with the company, third party services, or both – and whether any publicly available reporting exists on their reputation and posture for cyber security
- Carefully read disclosures and privacy policies (from the company and any third parties) and consider the following:
- If the company is victimised by a cyber-attack and your data may have been exposed, will the company notify you?
- If vulnerabilities to the toy are discovered, will the company notify you?
- Where is your data being stored?
- Who has access to your data?
- If changes are made to the disclosure and privacy policies, will the company notify you?
- Is the company contact information openly available in case you have questions or concerns?
- Closely monitor children’s activity with the toys (such as conversations and voice recordings) through the toy’s partner parent application, if such features are available
- Ensure the toy is turned off, particularly those with microphones and cameras, when not in use
- Use strong and unique login passwords when creating user accounts (e.g., lower and upper-case letters, numbers, and special characters)
- Provide only what is minimally required when inputting information for user accounts (e.g., some services offer additional features if birthdays or information on a child’s preferences are provided)
In Australia, for privacy issues people are best off making a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.