The internet is becoming more integrated into our daily lives.In an effort to keep their products modern enough to appeal to a more tech-savvy generation, toy manufacturers have begun making more toys internet ready. Your children no longer have to sit down at a computer to connect to the web, and with new internet-enabled gadgets hitting the market every year, it’s important for parents to pay close attention.
Most concerning is that a lot of toys can connect to WiFi without your knowledge, and the features of these sorts of toys aren’t always clear unless you read through the manual included in the box after purchase.Using the internet has always been risky but even more so for children. Besides the potential for children to be exposed to content that isn’t age appropriate, some of the dangers kids most commonly face online includecyberbullying and being targeted by predators.
If your kids have already been online before, chances are you’ve made a good effort toward protecting them by screening their activity or using parental controls.However, keeping kids safe when their toys connect to the internet is a much trickier matter, especially since they can often play with them without supervision.You may not even be aware the toys access the net in the first place.
Though net-enabled toys can be used as great educational tools, the ones that have already hit the market were hacked in no time. One example is Hello Barbie, a Barbie doll that uses artificial intelligence and WiFi to converse with your child and remember the details of their chats in order to respond appropriately in later conversations.
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So with the “internet of toys” becoming more popular, how can we keep our children safe?
Spend Your Money Wisely
If there are specific toys your children have asked you for or simply any that catch your eye and you’ve decided you’re definitely purchasing them, it might be a good idea to do a quick Google search before you head to the store. Consider checking into the toys your children already own as well. A lot of manufacturers don’t openly advertise whether or not their toys can connect to the internet, so it can take some investigating to find out.
Head to the manufacturer’s website and find the product in question. Often there are product pages online that list all of the features of the toy. If there isn’t any mention of it being capable of connecting to the internet, check for a FAQ page for more information.
If you still don’t find the answer you’re looking for, consider contacting the manufacturer directly or asking a store associate if browsing in person. Googling a question can sometimes be simpler than navigating through the manufacturer’s website, but you should always be cautious while doing so in an effort to avoid potentially malicious sites.
Even if a toy you purchase does connect to the internet, always read through the privacy statement in the manual before you set it up and allow your children to play with it. The privacy statement will mention what types of information is collected by using the toy and who they pass said information over to. It’s generally good to avoid toys from companies that share collected data with third parties (since “the more, the merrier” does not apply in this situation), but the decision is yours to make, and sometimes the pros may outweigh the cons.
Use Security Software Whenever Possible
There are a lot of internet-enabled or “smart” toys on the market and many more to come. A lot of the toys that connect to the net actually appear to be quite simple, but they often use their online capability to search for answers to your children’s questions by browsing the web. Though they may seem harmless, hackers can use them to send your children whatever messages they please.
If you can’t pass up the chance to get your children a toy that uses artificial intelligence, a tablet or any other gadget that uses the internet, check if security software can be used. Many tablets in particular, even those that are kid-friendly, allow you to download apps.
For example, if your child has an Android tablet, you can use it to access the Google Play Store to install security apps on the device. For tablets, smartphones and computers, install both an anti-virus and a Virtual Private Network (VPN). An anti-virus will be able to scan these devices for malware and often remove it if it becomes infected.A VPN is more commonly used toprotect your privacy online and avoid getting hacked.
VPNs encrypt your internet connection, making it unlikely for hackers to spy on your family’s activities, steal data and infect your device with malware. You can, unfortunately, acquire malware in other ways, which is why the anti-virus is crucial. Overall, a combination of the two is recommended for maximum protection.
So what do you do when your children’s toys don’t have apps? Luckily, a VPN can be installed on certain routers, but it isn’t easy unless you have extensive knowledge about computers. If you still want to take a shot at it, here is a guide on how to do it, though a preconfigured router might be the better option. Keep in mind that even if you do install a VPN on your router, it will only protect your children when they’re within range of the signal.
Create an Alias for Internet Use
You’ll often have to go through a setup process when you purchase an internet-enabled toy before your children are able to play with it. In most cases, you’ll be asked to create an account or register the product in some way. When doing this, it’s often safer to use an alias so the manufacturer doesn’t have personal information about your family on file.
The main issue is that even if you feel safe with the manufacturer having the names of your children or your address, hackers can obtain any details shared online.If you must give out your address, at least use a fake name. It’s also important to avoid creating passwords or usernames that contain your children’s name or any other personally identifiable information.
Create aliases for your children and have them stick to using only those while online.
Teach and Encourage the Use of Online Safety Precautions
Most importantly, parents must teach their children about online safety so kids can protect themselves even when they’re playing with their internet-enabled toys without supervision. Anyone can access the internet, so ensure your children understand people online are strangers, and even those claiming to be friends or family members are not always who they say they are. Even if your children receive messages from a specific account that belongs to their grandmother, it’s unwise to assume it is always her using the account since it could get hacked at any moment.
You should teach your children they should never give out any personal information online, including login details for accounts, and encourage them to ask for help if they come across anything they’re unsure about. Take a look at this site for more tips about how to keep your kids safe on the net, as well as information about what to look out for while your children are gaming.
Stay in the Loop
Though the “internet of toys” can sound intimidating, and parents will have to take more precautions to keep their kids safe while playing with their toys, the internet can be helpful in motivating children to become more interested in academics. Many toys that access the internet can be used as learning tools and allow kids to enjoy games that hardly seem educational at first glance.
So long as parents stay in the loop by encouraging open communication with their kids, learn and teach about net safety, investigate the toys they’re purchasing and allowing their kids to play with, and keep an eye out for any news regarding data breaches, the “internet of toys” shouldn’t become too much of a problem.
Are you concerned about the “internet of toys”? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below.