Internet connected toys suspected of spying on kids




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Privacy is becoming an issue for the internet of things topic. However, a more unexpected field are internet connected toys. Over 18 privacy groups have been or are filing complaints with the European Union as well as the US Federal Trade Commission concerning Genesis Toys and speech recognition company Nuance for deceptive practices and violating of privacy laws. It is argued that i-Que and My Friend Carla, both pictured, do not only capture voices without notice or approval, it is also not clear what Nuance does with the information that is sent. As an added problem, the organizations are also accusing the companies of not making sure that other Bluetooth connected devices cannot access the toys. Evermore, if not properly managed the speech information that is recorded and sent to nuance could be sold to third parties. There is even another problem that hackers could gain access to these products and the microphones in those devices. Future scenarios could even go as far as “predatory stalking and physical danger”. All in all concerns are plenty, and stakes are high. However, chances are that speech recognition is going to be used more and more in future toys, especially in dolls.

It is unsure yet whether and to what extend the European Union and the US Federal Trade Commission are going to do something about these practices in themselves. It is extra complicated as these products are marketed to kids, who are obviously less able or responsible to manage privacy concerns themselves.

I am curious about how you think about these toys developments. Do you think we should ban them or develop rules? Then again, if we develop rules, how can we enforce them? And in the case of hacking, how should we manage the security of such hardware and the software behind it? Please comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Internet connected toys suspected of spying on kids”

  1. Hi Stephan, thanks for the interesting article!

    I would like to answer your question regarding security of mentioned devices. Secure management of such devices is not complicated at all, a simple segmentation into their own firewall monitored networks and restricted internet access would be sufficient in most cases. However, the problem is that security of objects, such as these toys, is usually not considered in the product design, as internet of things is quite a new concept.

    I believe the market itself will resolve this issue. As more and more products will be connected to the internet, people will become more aware of security threats and the goods without viable security measures simply will not sell.

  2. Hi Stephan, also from my side: thank you for posting this article.

    I agree with Thomasz that the internet will resolve the privacy safety level of toys, but some governmental regulations wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Indeed, I think that many more toys will be connected to the internet in the upcoming year. Manufacturers should explicitly mention what the potential privacy risks could be after buying the specific toy. On the short term, the government should make regularities about what manufacturers can do to prevent the risk of any voice recording. I think that manufacturers are better able to secure their Internet of Things toys and it is just a matter of investing money in the IT environment. Unfortunately, this could reduce a company’s short term profit (that is what they are afraid of), but it will pay-off in the long run, because these firms become more trusted in the market.

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