AI-powered gifts toying with kids’ privacy

I’d think twice before giving my kid an AI-powered robot for Christmas. While fun to play with, they expose kids to new dangers, with loss of privacy being the most prevalent.

Smart toys, such as AI-powered robots, and various gadgets like smartwatches, are common gifts for adults and children alike. But while some are surely useful and fun to play with, they can prove to be a privacy nightmare.

In the run-up to the holidays, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) released a report warning about shopping dangers at Christmas time.

Some toys, such as dolls, can recognize and react to voice commands, giving a child the impression that they have a personality. Many toys – even those that come as a surprise inside a chocolate egg – come with an app, offering a whole new type of entertainment for children. Some apps even record the ‘conversations’ between the doll and the child.

“It’s important to know that for some of these products, the voice recordings are shared with other companies, and the toys’ terms and conditions may allow for the child’s conversations to be used as the basis for targeted advertising,” DPC said.

That, of course, should be a red flag for every parent out there.

Given that AI is buzzword number one this year, there are many toys advertised as being “AI-powered.” If they are, indeed, AI-based, this could lead to more data collection and even be used for AI model training with your kid’s data.

DPC also warned about smartwatches. Sure, they’re very useful for communicating remotely with your child, tracking their location (do inform them that you’re doing it, though), and being sure they can call for help. But there are some risks, too.

“It is important to note that it has been found that, in some cases, these communications functions are not secure and can be hacked, which would allow eavesdropping on conversations, or even direct communication with the child. The location function on these watches can also be manipulated by hackers to make the child appear somewhere else, and the ‘SOS’ function can even be tricked to use a non-trusted phone number,” DPC said.

That said, tech innovations can still be a very exciting gift. As per DPC, before you go and buy one, here’s what to look out for:

  • What kind of sensors does the toy have? Can it record voice, does it understand commands? Does it have a camera?
  • Does it have Bluetooth connectivity? What about the ability to connect to the internet?
  • Can you turn all these features on and off when you want to?
  • Do you understand the terms and conditions? Do they give you a clear idea of what data could be collected and processed?

“If you are happy to buy the toy/device for a child, then take care to ensure that it is working in the way described, and that you are happy with what it is doing, especially when it shares information with an app or with companies or websites it might connect to,” DPC concluded.

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