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Christmas is coming, and all the toys were spying

Christmas is coming, and all the toys were spying

With Christmas rapidly approaching thoughts turn towards those amazing smart toys for the treasured little ones. But beware what you buy because they may well end up spying on you and your children. What’s more it may well adversely impact them once they reach adulthood.

The UK’s Office of the Children’s Commissioner has issued a report warning of the dangers of connected toys, especially with the many incidents of security failures. As well they warn, the as yet unknown consequences of amassing data on kids.

The report has called on companies that manufacture connected toys to be more transparent about the data they collect. And it calls for clearer terms and conditions that are understandable by kids similar to those required under GDPR for privacy notices. And while the GDPR set out specific protections for children it did not, the report stated, ‘address the most fundamental, long-term challenges.’

Swift regulatory action may be needed in order to protect children from being disadvantaged by the way their data is used, especially with regard to profiling and automated, and semi-automated decision-making.

- Children’s Commissioner: Who Knows About Me?

According to the report, youngsters will have sent out, on average, 70,000 social media posts by the time they have reached 18-years-old. And parents will have uploaded 1,300 photos and videos of their kids before they reach teenagerhood.

Couple this with the masses of data being gathered on them through schools and healthcare then you have an accumulation of an immense database on your kids that could come back to haunt them in adulthood.

There is also how far such profiling has an impact on a child’s freedom and independence. Whether from parents keeping digital tabs on them to those mistakes we all have made in our younger days. Making mistakes, talking openly about issues could, said the report, create profiling that may hinder getting health insurance. Or a college not awarding a place after including data from educational apps or connected devices.

Making mistakes and pushing boundaries is a normal part of childhood but is less likely when children are tracked so closely.

- Children’s Commissioner: Who Knows About Me?

Of course, today’s kids are becoming, the report says, ‘accustomed to sharing their information without asking why it is needed or what it will be used for,’ an attitude they found in kids as young as six. But as they grow older they may well become more aware of their digital footprint and find themselves with a huge handicap. At present the long-term implications are just unknown.

The report lays out a number of recommendations aimed at improving children’s and parent’s digital understanding and an encouragement of caution in all things. We should also, it argues, be teaching kids their cyber rights, noting there is little funding or capacity on the curriculum for this as well as a lack of data protection training for teachers.

So when you reach for that cute, connected toy that young Daisy Mae will just love, take a moment and think what it might mean when she becomes all grown-up.

Image: pixshark

TG Bamford author photo


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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