Children’s Toys With Cameras and Wi-Fi Cited as Spying Risk

A teddy bear that is hacking and spying

With the holiday season just around just the corner, a consumer advocacy group has warned that advanced technological children’s toys could be at risk of being hacked.

Toys that are also smart devices — i.e. have Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection — could be susceptible to malevolent actors because of a lack of security protocols and eyebrow-raising data collection, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

“This is a big concern for toys that can connect to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and have a camera or microphone,” says Jenn Engstrom, the state director for the CALPRIG Education Fund and who helped release the Trouble in Toyland 2023 report.

“Some of these can allow a device nearby or allow pairing your phone to a stranger who has a phone and can basically hack into your kid’s toy and use it as a communication device,” she adds.

Engstrom says that hackers might be able to spy on and even speak to children if they manage to gain access to the toy.

And it’s not just hackers gaining access to devices that the Trouble in Toyland 2023 report warns about, Engstrom tells CBS8 that toys like the Bluetooth Amazmic Kids Microphone and the Toy Dino by Cognitoys have questionable data collection terms and conditions.

“The problem is the privacy policy says it can collect information, including your name, date of birth, payment information, IP address; all kinds of personal identifiable information,” she says. “It’s not just creepy that it collects all that info, it also makes your family more susceptible to a data breach.”

Co-author of the report Teresa Murray, a U.S. Pirg Education Fund consumer watchdog, says, “It’s chilling to learn what some of these toys can do.”

“Smart toys can be useful, fun or educational, but interacting with some of them can create frightening situations for too many families.”

Advice When Buying Smart Toys

The report published guidelines and advice for parents and anyone else planning on buying a toy for a child this upcoming holiday season.

It urges consumers to read reviews about smart toys to check for any red flags and to ask questions about what the toy does, “Does it connect to Bluetooth, the internet, or social media? Does it collect a child’s private information? Does it record audio and video? Can it send online messages or emails?”

The report advises buyers to read a smart toy’s privacy policy — not just the toy company’s privacy policy — to better understand what type of data will be collected and how it will be used.

The full report can be read here.