How to choose safe smart toys for your kids

Do your homework to make sure hi-tech toys aren’t unwittingly putting your child at risk.

From talking teddy bears to toy smart cars, connected toys are increasingly popular with tech-savvy kids.

But sometimes, these hi-tech toys are not as harmless as they seem.

And internet safety experts say parents need to take some precautions to keep their children out of trouble.

Why are internet-connected smart toys risky?

Experts warn that any internet-connected toy or device with a camera, microphone or location tracker could put a child or family’s privacy and safety at risk.

“Parents should be aware of what they are bringing home to their children,” says NordVPN digital privacy expert Daniel Markuson.

“Once you connect anything to the internet, it may potentially be exposed to cybercriminals.

“Once they are in, hackers can use the toy’s microphone or camera to hear and see whatever the toy ‘sees’ and ‘hears’.

“In some cases, some shady guys from the internet can even talk to children.

“The problem of the vulnerability of connected toys isn’t new, but it’s snowballing as more and more smart toys reach the market every year.”

Earlier this year, a security flaw was identified in the TicTocTrack GPS smartwatch for children that allowed them to be tracked.

Other smart toys have had similar issues and some countries have banned certain toys because of concerns about safety risks.

In 2017, Germany and Norway only allowed the sale of certain smart dolls unless retailers agreed to prevent them being able to connect to the internet.

internet safety

How to buy safe smart toys

Research before you buy

Look at online reviews about the toy you are thinking of buying.

Read expert comments and search the internet for any complaints or security issues, says Daniel.

Read the manufacturer’s privacy policy and terms of service on their website.

Be cautious about the information you share

Some toys ask you to register for updates or for a better playing experience.

An email is needed to get updates, but most other information isn’t really needed.

Only use secure Wi-Fi

Only connect the toy to a secure Wi-Fi network with a strong password.

Public Wi-Fi can be easily hacked.

Turn it off when not in use

When your child isn’t playing with their smart toy, switch it off.

Cover a camera on a toy and put any microphone in a drawer.

Report any suspected safety issues

If your child’s smart toy is hacked, report it to the manufacturer and to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

Written by Sarah Marinos.