Toys Hear Kids When They’re Sleeping, They Know When Kids Are Awake . . . So Think About Privacy for Goodness Sake!


Parents shopping for the most technologically-advanced toys for their children this holiday season need to be mindful of features such as recording devices, cameras, and GPS that pose data security and privacy concerns, the Irish privacy office advised.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission warned about dolls in particular, which “may give the appearance of having a personality and human-like quality,” but do so by recording conversations between the dolls and children.

The guidance was prompted by notifications to national data protection regulators from the European Consumer Council about data protection issues arising from internet-connected toys in 2016, and another 2017 notice about smart watches marketed for children. German regulators recently banned smartwatch functions aimed at children that allow external surveillance.

Connected toy warnings during the holiday shopping season happened in the U.S. last year. U.S Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) delivered a report to the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee less than two weeks before Christmas 2016, to warn parents about privacy risks and to encourage the Federal Trade Commission to exercise its regulatory authority over the toy market.

Mattel Inc. fell victim to a similar outcry this year after announcing plans to release a sort of Alexa for kids—called Aristotle—that would, among other features, record sounds in the room and track the sleep pattern of children and play music when it senses that the kids wake up. Mattel quickly quashed Aristotle in the face of criticism from child advocacy group, parents, and a bipartisan letter from lawmakers.   

All of these concerns prompted the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to release the guidance warning parents to “take extra care” when buying toys with the features. The guidance provides a list of questions that parents should ask before buying the toys, and urges parents to think twice if any of the questions can’t be answered.

The questions include: (1) What kind of sensors do the toys have? (2) Does the toy have GPS? (3) Is the toy internet-connected or use Bluetooth? (4) If it uses an app, can it only be downloaded by parents and kids who own the toy? (5) Is it clear when the sensors are working, such a light that turns on with the sensors?

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