If you are here to discover how IoT-enabled toys pose safety risks to kids, then you have come to the right place. You do not want your child to miss this amazing invention but what’s even better is a little analysis about the IoT technology and the internet safety risks of smart toys.

You’ve likely heard the term ‘Internet of things (IoT)’ but before moving towards how dangerous the IoT-based toys can be! Have a look at what IoT means.

IoT refers to the set of devices connected to the Internet. Wrist watch, hand band, cars, the list of IoT devices span from smart homes to fitness accessories and from adults’ assisting devices to kids’ tech toys.

What an IoT device generally capable of doing, which normal device can’t?

IoT device is smarter and works according to the data it collects. If your house is IoT-enabled, you can access your house with a simple mobile app that allows you to manage your home remotely (switching on/off electrical appliances, closing doors/windows, managing cameras and so on), the same goes for cars and other smart devices.

How can IoT-based toys pose safety risks and what risks?

Parents need to provide the maximum internet safety to their kids. Many parents might wonder – well, it’s just a toy, nothing! A smart toy that can cause minor to major harm to a kid’s physical development and mental growth should no more be considered just a toy, and it is a problem.

How IoT-Based Smart Toys Pose Safety Risks to Kids
How IoT-Based Smart Toys Pose Safety Risks to Kids

Here is a real example of how IoT-based toys can put a kid’s and his family’s life to a threat, a Hong-Kong based company VTech, which produced IoT toys and encouraged kids to use internet connected devices got hacked. It happened back in November 2014. Due to a pathetically bad security controls, it was suspected and later evidenced that it was not the first time when the personal information of kids was hacked and stored by the Dark Web and Mafia. The hacker, however, told that it was an experiment to show how unsecured is the personal data of kids and their families.

The data, which included their family details, kids photos, home address, their IP addresses, and various other information about the kids (which was being collected whenever the kid used the toy), could quickly be posted or sold to criminal networks. This transparency to the information could lead to harassment, kidnapping and even attack against the kid.

The robot being used as educational tools is another alarming situation. The kid-robot interaction poses serious barriers on a child’s mind, getting the education from a programmed robot leads to a limited exposure and hence limited thinking ability which significantly hinders in a kid’s mental development process. Robot-assisted educational tools may help those with learning problems when human teaching becomes challenging. However such interaction can lead to a very poor innovative and creative skills and personality development.

They lack innovation, and hence it is impossible to expect extraordinary results, they’re only programmed to transfer the information despite all the odds. They are emotionless lack empathy and can never detect what a student needs at the point of time. They lack the understanding of the personality and hence tend to disturb a kid’s career dreams and ambitions. Such limitations make it not only just less effective but rather a suspicious tool for the kid’s mental development, especially in early ages.

Above mentioned are few of many examples of how a smart toy can make a negative impact both in a short-term and long-term.

What we can learn from these?

The VTech incident is a wake-up call but if you’re thinking to isolate kids from using smart tech toys, believe us it is not the solution.

Stéphane Chaudron in a report says, “These devices come with really interesting possibilities and the more we use them, the more we will learn about how to best manage them.” lead researcher of the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

A recent F-Secure survey indicates that there’s a lot more space for parents to do this.

More than once a week, only 30% of survey candidates checked what their kids do on the internet or use parental controls. And just 38% of them taught their kids how to use the online content safely.

The best way to maintain internet safety is to educate your kid on how to use these devices, interact with your kids and always keep an eye on what your kids do with the IoT smart toys. Giving them some privacy is also important for their personal development, so parents need to act wisely here. Finally, do a study on how to overcome internet safety risks being a parent of the digital age and stay connected.

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Anas Baig is a Cyber Security Expert, a computer science graduate specializing in internet security, science, and technology. Also, a Security Professional with a passion for robots & IoT devices.