Santa’s Internet-Connected Toys Might Put Your Kids at Risk

Gifts at a christmas tree

If you have young children at home, chances are they have already asked Santa for internet‑connected toys as a gift. It is not difficult to see why smart toys have so much appeal. However, without being alarmist, this may be a good time to think twice before you buy or at least have a good conversation with your child about internet safety. Connectivity has the potential to put the privacy and safety of your children at risk.

The Internet of Toys

With smartphone-connected paper airplanes, tech dolls that remember your favorite color and birthday, coding and robotic toys you can have conversations with, you might wish you were a kid again.

Yes, these days, the Internet of Toys is just another part of the Internet of Things. And yes, lots of internet-connected devices have security problems. But, unfortunately, hackers who target poorly secured connected devices don’t make a distinction between your doorbell and your kids Wi-Fi toys.

The Problem is Snowballing

The problem of the vulnerability of internet-connected toys is not new, but it is snowballing. More and more internet-connected toys are marketed every year and they have become a staple in many households.

Internet security and safeguarding your privacy however, is very complex. Even big tech companies sometimes fail to keep your information secure. So, what about toy companies, especially the unknown or unbranded ones?

What’s the Danger?

The risks range from unauthorized persons listening to your child’s innocent conversations, which can be surprisingly revealing, to compromising your child’s safety both online and in real life. Connected devices can also get caught up in botnet-attacks.

In theory, all connected toys – whether they are connected via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or an access point – are at risk. Some toys also have cameras, microphones and location trackers, or can only be controlled with an app, which could reveal even more personal information. Also, it is not always clear where personal information is kept or how it is secured.

What to do?

Just like with any connected device, there are some basic rules and guidelines to adhere to. In this case, it is up to you as the parent to consider cyber security.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Be aware of what you bring into your home. Do your research and check for any complaints or security issues.
  • Read the toy company’s user agreement and privacy policy. Who is collecting information, what information, where is it stored and what are your parental rights?
  • Check the privacy settings. If you or your child has to provide personal information, give away as little as possible.
  • Keep the device up to date with security updates and patches.
  • Use only trusted and secure Wi-Fi access.
  • Use strong passwords and PIN codes.
  • Only buy age appropriate toys. Younger children do not understand the concept of online safety as older children and adults do.
  • Have a conversation with your child about cyber security and online responsibility. Be blunt. This is not the time to be vague about potential dangers.
  • Monitor your children and regularly encourage them to speak up if they have doubts about something “strange” happening when online.
IT communication specialist
Sandra has many years of experience in the IT and tech sector as a communication specialist. She's also been co-director of a company specializing in IT, editorial services and communications project management. For she follows relevant cybercrime and online privacy developments.