We’re in a brave new world of children’s toys — Barbie can connect to the internet and teddy bears come with wifi content updates. This means all sorts of exciting things for kids — their dolls can learn their names and have interactive conversations. But a new study warns that these internet-connected playthings raise concerns about children’s privacy and security, and have potentially troubling “implications for social evolution.” It’s time, say the authors from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), to learn more about these toys and develop new guidelines for how they are regulated.
“These devices come with really interesting possibilities and the more we use them, the more we will learn about how to best manage them,” said lead researcher Stéphane Chaudron. “Locking them up in a cupboard is not the way to go. We as adults have to understand how they work — and how they might ‘misbehave’ — so that we can provide the right tools and the right opportunities for our children to grow up happy in a secure digital world.”
The paper, published by JRC, comes at an appropriate time, given recent reports of Internet-connect toys being hacked, including Mattel’s Hello Barbie, Geneses’ Cayla Doll, and Fisher-Price’s Smart Bear. A couple months ago, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to take action against toy manufacturers that record and share toy data without consent. This report essentially validates what several children’s advocacy groups have already said about the potential pitfalls of these connected toys.
While giving a brief nod to recent toy hacking headlines, the authors mainly focus on the security issues raised by toy companies’ privacy policies. As the report points out, many of these toys let manufacturers “record, analyze, use and…