Toys that can watch you: Protecting your child from hackable toys

When toys are watching you

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Toys that talk to you and use the internet to help your child learn may sound like a great way to use technology for play, but, “You need to take a couple of steps back and think very hard about what you’re doing,” warned Shirley Rooker from national consumer watchdog Call For Action.

This FBI warning lays out some of the dangers of interactive toys that use a Wifi connection, starting with how hackers can misuse the microphones or even cameras inside to snoop on your house or your child.

“That means they can reach out to the whole world or conversely, the world can reach into your child’s room and talk to your child,” Rooker warned.

One example is the My Friend Cayla doll that came with BlueTooth connectivity and instructions to keep it safe. A white-hat hacker easily breached the security and got the doll to play explicit music, showing its vulnerability. Germany and Norway banned the toy, and though no major U.S. marketers carry it, you can still find some on eBay.

“It’s true it opens up a whole new world to your child, but it also opens up your child to another world out there,” Rooker said. “So you just have to be careful. You’ve got to use good judgement.”

So how do you protect your child?

Start with your own Wifi network and make sure your password is strong and changed often, so hackers can’t jump on it to search for connected devices.

“My advice is supervise, supervise, supervise” said Rooker. “Don’t leave these devices alone and use them as a babysitting tool, they are not meant to be that. If your child is using that device, you be in the room and supervise.”

When you’re done playing and leaving the room, then turn the toy off and disconnect it from the internet, and we mean “off” not just “standby.”

“There are no guarantees,” Rooker said. “I think it’s just parental supervision, using your good sense, limiting the amount of time your child is on this device, and making sure you’re always around when they’re using it.”

If you think your child’s toy has been hacked, you need to report that to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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