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Internet Connected Toys Can Spy On You

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Internet connected home devices, cars and toys are the next big thing as far as tech sector is concerned. However, the increasing popularity of internet connected toys has sparked fresh concerns regarding the privacy of ordinary citizens. Security experts have warned that “Smart Toys” can be misused by the intelligence agencies as well as criminals to extract intimate details of civilians. And since the toys themselves are designed for kids, the safety and personal information of the kids is at stake here.

Let’s start our discussion with Mattel’s Hello Barbie which is one of the hottest toys around. Hello Barbie is basically a Wi-Fi enabled doll which promises to be a real friend to young girls. The doll uses voice-recognition technology to listen to users and even gives personalized replies to them. More worryingly, the toy sends questions asked by children to Mattel’s servers for further analysis. Security experts have warned that the personal data collected by Hello Barbie can be used by the spy agencies to eavesdrop on individuals. Not only that, the data can also be used by cyber criminals to create profiles of individuals, including small children. The data collected can then be used for hacking attacks and criminal activities.

The privacy concerns related to internet connected toys were exacerbated in the month of November when VTech’s Kid Connect database was hacked. The hack not only exposed personal details of millions of users but even leaked photos and voice recordings of kids captured via VTech’s toys. The Kid Connect service is akin to a messaging service which lets kids send and receive text and voice messages, photos and drawings, stickers and even allows them to chat in groups and maintain contact lists. The security breach not only leaked names and home addresses of children, it even allowed strangers to chat with kids.

Meanwhile in UK, civil liberty groups and opposition parties are worried that the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill would allow intelligence agencies to hack into any internet connected device (including internet connected toys) to spy on British citizens. If the bill passes in the current form, ISPs would be legally bound to assist intelligence agencies into hacking internet connected devices. This is indeed a worrying development since it seriously undermines the privacy of civilians as well as minor children.

If you are planning to buy an internet connected toy for your child, consider the privacy challenges associated with it. Toys with in-built camera and microphone can capture every word you say, take photos of your home and even transmit that information to the web. As we have seen repeatedly in the recent months, even the most secure databases can be hacked by the criminals and the personal information of millions of users can thus be compromised. Before you buy an internet connected toy, do some research on what kind of information it captures and what it does with the information. There is no point in buying a toy which can compromise your personal information in the near future.

April 24, 2016

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