Stranger Danger: Kids and Risky IoT Devices

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – for holiday shopping and getting the best deals on the latest tech gadgets and gear.   According to the 2020 U.S. Retail Holiday Trends Guide, the holiday shopping season will begin earlier this year. Brick-and-mortar sales will be down due to COVID and online retail sales will experience unprecedented growth.  

Two of the biggest shopping days of the season – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – are just around the corner. Moms and dads will be searching for the hottest items on those letters kids send to Ole St Nick and their family’s wish lists.  Gone are the days when kids asked for barbie dolls, stuffed animals, toy trucks, and bicycles. Phones, tablets, game consoles, and interactive toys have replaced the traditional items that used to entertain young minds. Instead of elves hammering away at wooden cars, modern-day toy makers are integrating technology into their products to appeal to today’s tech-savvy kids with augmented reality, Bluetooth capabilities, and internet connectivity.

Creepy covert IoT devices for kids

A University of Iowa study found that 90 percent of kids under the age of two had a moderate ability to use a tablet. While tablets and other interactive, connected devices can help kids learn, there are also heightened privacy risk factors to consider with any device that connects to the internet – especially those designed to appeal to kids.  Any device or toy that contains cameras or microphones, has GPS, connects to the internet, or requests and stores data can potentially expose your kids or their information to trackers and hackers.

It’s a parent’s job to protect their kids –  online and off. Even the founders of big tech take that job seriously.  Apple founder Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use the iPad or any product their dad invented.  In a 2104 article published by The New York Times, Jobs said “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” Other tech-savvy families that were interviewed for the Times piece also reported wanting to protect their children from the dangers of technology.  

In 2017, Microsoft founder Bill Gates told a British newspaper that he didn’t give his kids cell phones until they were 14, saying “smartphones and related devices were useful for homework and staying in touch with friends, but had the potential for excess.”

Rich Stokes, CEO/Founder of Winston Privacy and a parent, left his former position in advertising after realizing it ceased to be about consumers and became more about finding novel ways to extract their personal data from computers, phones, and smart homes – and toys.  He started Winston Privacy because he didn’t want Big Tech following your kids around, profiling them, pushing their buttons from cradle to grave…and collecting their personal data.

I didn’t want my kids – or anyone else’s – growing up in a surveillance state.” ~ Richard Stokes

Following are some tips you can take to protect your kids from the risks of data exposure when using IoT devices so they can have a merry but safe holiday season:

  • Talk to your kids, young and old, about online risks, limiting use of technology, and not sharing personal information.
  • Review and adjust the device’s privacy settings, only enabling features that won’t compromise your kid’s privacy.
  • For GPS-enabled devices, check the device’s location settings. The safest measure is to turn off geolocation tracking or at the very least make sure they it’s set to show just a general area and not an exact address.
  • If the device includes a camera, make sure the child is old enough to understand the dangers of sharing photos or videos with other people. For younger kids, turn the camera off.  For older children, make sure its set to manually turn on only when in use and supervise when the camera is used.
  • For devices with audio-recording features, disable default recording of audio. If there’s a microphone on your kid’s smart device, make sure that the mute button is turned on so the device is not listening in on conversations. Review and/or delete audio files that are unnecessary to be stored in the device.
  • Make use of parental controls and safe-search filters to help manage what content your kids can see or access. 

Even if you follow all of the above tips, limiting use of these devices and parental supervision are the most effective measures you can take to keep your child safe when using any connected devices. 

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