Regardless of our differences over different issues over the years, we’ve all been unanimous when it comes to the security of our children, our younger generation. But with time, threats to them have only increased. We now have digital toys that have cameras, sound recorders and are always connected to the web. While this gives them accessibility and an added opportunity to learn, this accessibility comes at a huge cost, it compromises their security and puts their privacy, their safety and even their lives at risk. And with more and more companies introducing new line of connected toys into the market, the risk of safety checks run on those toys being overlooked gets higher and the safety of the kids feels even more questionable.
“Think about it,” says Alan Martin, Manager of Public Relations at Ivacy VPN, “Anything that’s connected to the web can be hacked into and anything that can be hacked into can be used to see what the kids see, hear what the kids hear and worst of all, once hacked into, this device could also be used to communicate with those unsuspecting little souls.” He stresses that if we don’t nip this issue in the bud right now, it could even get out of hand.
Alan also points out how industry influencers and cybersecurity experts have also been warning parents about these digital toys citing examples of the security flaws of TicTocTrack smartwatch in Australia and banning of “My Friend Cayla” dolls in Germany along with Furby Connect, Toy-Fi Teddy and i-Que Intelligent Robot, not to mention CloudPets.
But perhaps the biggest issue cited by Alan was leakage the of most crucial information related to nearly six and a half million people, most of which were kids, by the toy company VTech Holdings, thanks to a digital attack on them. The compromise data of kids wasn’t just names, it also contained information like genders, and dates of births which can be used in twisted ways by hackers and other criminals.
While the dangers may be real, it’s not really impossible to protect kids from these issues. Here are some of the ways parents can protect their kids.
Dig Into The Matter
Before the parents purchase a toy for their kid, it’s crucial they do some digging into the matter. It certainly helps if the parents can do some online search and look for reviews for the products they’re buying for their kids. It also helps to read more about the information those toy manufacturing companies ask for or keep and how they use that information. As a rule of thumb, all parents should avoid shady products and go for the ones that GDPR compliant and don’t ask for anything more than the basic information. It’s also beneficial to check out the Policy pages of those companies and if possible, also chat with their support team.
Protect Your Information
Most of the information asked by shady companies is not essential, and that should be a big red flag. Information like the parents’ email address might sometimes be necessary to run the product or unlock full experience but in most cases, other information like the credit card number, the number of kids parents’ have, their gender or age is totally not required. So every parent should be skeptical of information they’re providing and should confirm what information is safe to provide before sharing it.
Use Secure Wi-Fi Only
Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe. They can be hacked into, they can be a trap set by a hacker or just means for phishing credit card and other essential information out of parents. Imagine what can happen if a kid connects his or her device to that malicious Wi-Fi? So if the device allows it, set a password on it so it becomes impenetrable and also make sure to only connect to parents’ own Wi-Fi device or data connection. Also be sure to use a VPN on that device or just run the VPN app on your phone and then create a hotspot to connect that toy with the phone’s protected hotspot.
Monitor The Kid’s Chats
Some device lets kids chat with other kids that have the same device or game. It’s better to be vigilant and monitor all the chats the kids have. Teach the kids some information should never be shared with strangers. Parents should also be on the lookout for any suspicious chats because there could be an evil adult on the other side posing as a kid.
Power It Off When Not In Use
When the device isn’t in use, turn it off. Not only will it save the battery time, it’s also a way to make sure no one collects the data whatsoever. Also make sure the microphone and camera aren’t recording any data. If you suspect that, place the toy someplace where it cannot record the voices. Same goes for the camera.
Provide Immediate Feedback
Part of being alert and attentive is to always report anything fishy. If a mother or a father feels something isn’t right with the way their child is behaving, or if they suspect the toy may be compromised, it’s best to immediately report the issue to the relevant authorities. Even if it wouldn’t immediately help you, it will always make sure the internet becomes a safer place for your kids as well as other kids around you.