Experts: be smart before buying "smart toys" this holiday season

Posted at 6:22 AM, Nov 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-14 07:49:42-05

We're raising a new generation. A generation of "smart toy" users.

But before you grab one of these digital toys and hit the checkout isle - Cybersecurity experts and the FBI are cautioning parents about the dangers behind these internet accessible toys.

From tablets, to Kindle Fires, to Chromebooks, to countless toys, stuffed animals and pocket games with wireless capabilities, the reality this - strangers can easily hack into these devices, accessing personal information and thereby putting your child at risk.

Arun Vishwnath,a Cybersecurity expert at the University of Buffalo made it clear, "you have to understand what you're buying and do the security settings on them."

Seemingly innocent toys with features like: speakers,  microphones, cameras, wireless access and the ability to save information - these are all elements that can digitally expose you child. Making it easy for things like :child identity theft or your child's picture, name, even address to be pinned by someone they never even knew existed. 

Why? Because of a seemingly innocent game.

Ellie Ohl is 4-years-old and has 4 smart toys - two belong to Ellie and two are hand-me-downs from mom Ashley, a millennial who feels despite said risk factors, she's aware of the nature of today's time but also the quality and quantity of her daughter's screen time. 

"It's about balance," Ohl said. "Knowing these dangers are real and exist, but making smart decisions to inform our children and ourselves about it. But you can't be in denial that these things are happening, " she continued.

Admittedly, Ohl says, when it came to monitoring Ellie's accessibility to her tablets and iphone (which only has kid-friendly, parentally monitored games), it was a challenge.

"I started realizing a pattern of her getting pretty aggressive when I would want to take them away....but I was like, you know, I can't create this pattern," she emphasized.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no kid should have more than 2 hours of daily digital recreational time. Thereality is, ask around, experts say that's not the norm - kids use technology inside the classroom these days almost as much as they use it at home. 

So, as the holiday season approaches, how do you protect your family?

Be cautious, be informed, be aware - and do the research.

"If you're ok with a toy recording information and sending it back to their servers, be weary of that, because it's going outside of your house and you have no control of it," Vishwnath said.

Ask questions before you make an impulse purchase and just because they're popular, doesn't mean your child should have the latest smart toy ASAP - sit down and in an age appropriate way, talk with your kids about these toys, their benefits and their dangers.

For more information on some risk factors of smart toys, check out the FBI's website featuring a  listof the kind of toys parents should thing twice about before others.