As kids have started to play more and more with apps on iPads, interactive dolls, and talking teddy bears, adults have gotten more concerned about possible privacy and safety risks associated with these types of toys. And now the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stepped in and said on Monday that internet-connected toys might be watching you and have warned parents to be extra careful with their kids’ smart toys and techy gadgets.
According to the FBI warning, these internet-connected toys, depending on their functions and features, may contain speech recognition software, microphones, cameras, GPS, and data storage — components that could reveal personal information about whomever is playing with the toy and could "present exploitation risks." The advisory states:
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.
"I think this is the first time the FBI has issued such warning," Tod Beardsley, director of research at cyber security firm Rapid7, told Reuters. "A lot of people tend to trust the FBI as a government organization, so it definitely raises awareness of the risk associated with internet-connected toys."
Parents should take an extra close look at their kid's smart, interactive, internet-connected toys. And while the FBI did not disclose any particular brand, smart toys that may present a risk might include the popular I-Que robot, the My Friend Cayla doll — which was banned in Germany due to security concerns earlier this year, according to Fox News — and Mattel’s Aristotle, which is a kid-friendly version of an Amazon Echo. Mattel and Genesis Toys have not yet responded to Romper's request for comment regarding privacy or security concerns, but there have been no reports within the U.S. yet.
Before purchasing these types of toys and entering the required information to get them going, the FBI advised parents to examine the toy company user agreement disclosures and privacy practices closely. Make sure you know where your family’s personal data is being sent and stored and if it will be sent to third-party services, too.
"Security safeguards for these toys can be overlooked in the rush to market them and to make them easy to use," according to the FBI warning. "Consumers should perform online research of these products for any known issues that have been identified by security researchers or in consumer reports."
While these devices are designed to educate and entertain innocent children, the ever-evolving world of technology can be pretty terrifying at times. And, as every parent knows, you can never play it too safe when it comes protecting your kid and their privacy.