Children’s Privacy in the Internet of Things – Part 3: What to take into account when buying a “smart” toy for a child

Feb 23, 2017

As highlighted in our previous blog post, smart toys are often build to collect, measure and process data in order to provide more personalized experiences for the users or to analyse personal qualities. For example, ‘Teddy the Guardian’ is a smart teddy bear which is equipped with sensors in the paws that within few seconds measure body, skin and ambient temperature. The teddy can therewith take a role of a nurse for a toddler and ease the work in hospitals when needed. On the one hand, smart devices can have a variety of positive effects, while on the other hand, they may have come with serious privacy threats.

Therefore, there are some factors for the consumers to keep in mind when thinking about buying a new smart toy for a child. Here is a checklist of factors that should be taken into account next time you are about to go to the toy shop:

1. First of all, take a look at the privacy practices. It is true that privacy policies are not often written in a user-friendly way. Still, it is worth the effort to check out how the personal data of your child is processed. For example, it is important to find out if the data is being sold or disclosed to other entities – there is a difference between the companies who sell the information and those who use third parties in order to improve the features of the toys and the playing experience in total.

2. Are you able to change the privacy settings? When bringing the smart toy into use, it is advisable to check the default settings and find out if changing its privacy settings is possible. Despite the fact that the new EU General Data Protection Regulation requires that IoT manufacturers should implement the “privacy by design” and “privacy by default” principles, there is no certainty that the privacy settings are set in favor of the users.

3. Check out what type of personal data the smart toy is about to collect. Especially the sensitivity of the collected data is a factor that is worth to consider: the greater volume of sensitive data the device transfers over the Internet, the greater risk of a data breach there is. At the same time also the intended purposes for which the collected data will be used are key factors to spot when thinking about buying a tech toy.

4. Is the smart toy always on? You should be able to decide whether the toy is in use or in offline-mode. Otherwise there might be a risk that your tech toy could be listening on your conversations and even watch you from its built-in video cameras. It has recently been reported in the media that the Smart TVs were monitoring living rooms without their owner knowing about it. Continuous monitoring through smart toys may therefore be a serious problem.

5. Remember, there is always an option to buy a not-so-smart toy instead.

Read also the first and the second part of the series.


Saara Koski, Privacy Specialist