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Smart toys are essentially toys that connect to the Internet, and are set to become a large product category for IoT devices. A 2015 study projected total revenues from smart toys to reach 2.8 billion USD before the end of last year.* However, last year's well-known VTech hack that saw data about 6.4 million children stolen caused a moral panic about the security and privacy risks these toys carry for kids.**
"The thing that parents need to know about smart toys is that they're new terrain for parents and kids, but also manufacturers," said Sean Sullivan, F-Secure Security Advisor. "Smart toys and IoT devices in general are a competitive market, and we've already seen numerous examples where security is treated as an afterthought. Companies are more interested in growing their customer base than securing customer data, so we'll probably continue to see these cracks in smart toy security."
Parenting Still Key for Protecting Kids Using IoT, Mobile Devices
Whether parents are concerned about IoT devices, mobile phones, or other Internet safety issues, the best approach for protecting kids is for parents to become involved in how their kids learn to use devices or online services. And data from a recent F-Secure survey shows that there's a lot more space for parents to do this.*** Only 30 percent of survey respondents said they check what their kids are doing online or use parental controls more than once a week. Just 38 percent said they explain to their kids how to use the Internet safely more than once a week.
According to F-Secure Researcher Mikael Albrecht, this is problematic given how quickly technology, and how kids use it, is evolving. "Parents have resources they can use to protect kids on traditional PCs, but mobile devices and the IoT are a different story. They do not recognize children as a user group with distinctive needs, and this leaves parents with poor tools to manage their kids' online safety. So while you have things like age restrictions, they're so basic that kids can figure out how to get around them before parents know what's happening."
Sullivan and Albrecht agree that the best solution is for parents to engage with their kids and help them learn to use technology in healthy, positive ways. There are a few practical ways parents can approach helping their kids learn to use the Internet safely:
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