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Senate report reveals safety risk with smart toys

Sen. Bill Nelson warns parents to be aware of potential dangers

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A warning to all parents and guardians after a U.S. Senate report just released, raises concerns about the safety of your child. The report, unveiled Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, spells out potential dangers associated with smart toys.

These types of toys allow children to interact with them, by connecting to the internet. Nelson says the report reveals children could then become targets for hackers and identity thieves looking to steal a child's personal information and use it to steal their identity -- or worse.

According to the report, toymakers often store information like Wi-Fi passwords, names, addresses, birthdates and physical locations. If that information is improperly secured, identity thieves could do a number of things including apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans -- or with location information, that could be used to contact or even abduct a child.

Smart toy security incidents

The report cites three incidents in which smart toy manufacturers failed to adequately secure a child’s personal information. 

One such incident involved a data breach at VTech Electronics, a leading manufacturer of electronic learning toys and baby monitors. The breach last year reportedly exposed the personal information of more than six million children around the globe, including their names, genders and birthdates, as well as photographs and account passwords. 

The report goes on to cite security flaws found in two other popular children’s toys – Fisher-Price’s Smart Toy Bear and hereO’s GPS watch – which could have exposed not only a child’s personal information, but in the case of the GPS watch, a child’s real-time physical location as well. 

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“It’s frightening to think that our children’s toys can be used against them in this way,” said Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. “The companies that make these toys have to do more to safeguard the parents and children who use them.”  

Report recommendations for protection 

The U.S. Senate report recommends measures parents can take both before and after purchasing a smart toy.

Before purchasing a smart toy

  • Learn what personal information the toy will collect, how that information will be used, whether it will be shared and how long it will be retained. This information can usually be found in the device’s privacy policy. If a toy’s privacy policy is too long and confusing, parents may want to reconsider giving that product to their child.
  • Check whether the manufacturer of a particular toy has been the subject of a previous data breach and how the company handled that breach.
  • After purchasing a smart toy

  • Change the default passwords that come with the toy and install any available updates to the toy’s software.
  • If possible, change the toy’s default privacy settings to limit the amount of personal information it provides to the manufacturer. Parents should allow a toy to collect only the information that is necessary for it to properly function.
  • You can read the full U.S. Senate report on smart toys here.