FBI: Microphones, cameras in smart toys pose privacy risk for children

Local News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — “My Friend Cayla” is an interactive, Bluetooth-connected doll. Consumer advocates claim the doll is a security risk to children who play with her.

“Toys like this can be hacked because of the Bluetooth connectivity,” explained Diane Santurri, an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Design at Johnson & Wales University.

Santurri said Bluetooth-connected toys could pose privacy concerns.

“If there’s a microphone attached to that device, that info is going to be something that could be heard by others,” Santurri said. “If it’s in a database in the cloud, and the cloud is not secure for whatever reason, that info can be shared and passed around to third parties.”

Santurri said cameras in devices may pose similar risks.

The FBI issued a warning about internet-connected toys in July, alerting parents that data may be collected through the toys. The warning said if the data is exposed, it could lead to child identity fraud and exploitation risks.

“Smart toys and entertainment devices for children are increasingly incorporating technologies that learn and tailor their behaviors based on user interactions,” the warning said. “These features could put the privacy and safety of children at risk due to the large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed.”

Before consumers purchase internet-connected toys, the FBI has several recommendations:

  • Search online to see if any issues have been identified by consumer advocates
  • Read the toy company’s user agreement disclosures and privacy practice
  • Find out where any personal data would be sent and stored

“You need to do your research to figure out if the company is actually protecting your child’s privacy,” Santurri said.

Consumers should ensure a their WiFi networks are secure, with strong passwords.

“You want to make sure your child is using WiFi, that is not a public WiFi,” Santurri cautioned. “To protect your child, what you should do is shut their device off, maybe not leave it in their room.”

If there are firmware updates available for toys or devices, consumers should install those as soon as possible.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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