The FBI recently issued a public service announcement concerning an unusual topic for law enforcement: toys.
The bureau encourages parents to consider cyber security before introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes. "These toys typically contain sensors, microphones, cameras, data storage components and other multimedia capabilities – including speech recognition and GPS options. These features could put the privacy and safety of children at risk due to the large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed," the announcement says.
So how should parents interpret this warning?
The concern is that a smart toy might "overhear" children's conversations in its vicinity that divulge locations and information about the child; that someone outside the house could activate the camera and photograph the child when the child isn't aware; or that personal information such as addresses used to register the toy can be breached, says Alan Brill, senior managing director at Kroll, a Manhattan-based risk management organization. The toy also could include malware that gives "bad guys" access to a family's financial, tax and medical records, he says.
Brill has two grandchildren on L.I.'s North Shore. "We think about what we buy them," he says. He suggests parents do due diligence, asking the following:
Is the toy made by a reputable, U.S. company? If so, "it wouldn't bother me as much," Brill says. "Knockoffs coming from overseas, we don't know who is on the other end. We don't know who is listening. We don't know who is watching." He suggests making sure the company complies with the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. "Go online to look and see if there are any complaints or issues that have been reported," he says.
(Email Beth Whitehouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.)