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Consumer alert: NYS DCP issues warning over risks of children's technology toys


Tue, Dec 12th 2023 11:35 am

December is Safe Toys & Gifts Month 

√ Tips for parents buying technology toys this holiday season

Submitted by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

As technology evolves, so do the toys that children play with. Technology toys are becoming increasingly popular among kids of all ages, but with this trend comes the need for data privacy protection and increased safety measures. During Safe Toys and Gifts Month, it's important for parents to be aware of potential risks and take steps to ensure their child's safety while playing with tech toys.

Common types of internet-connected toys include interactive games, robots, dolls, and wearable gadgets. These toys incorporate technology to enhance the play experience for children. However, there are concerns about the potential security and privacy risks associated with these toys.

“As the season of giving continues, it’s important that parents and guardians keep the safety and privacy of children in mind before purchasing increasingly popular tech toys as gifts,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said. “While these toys can be a great form of entertainment and even learning resources for kids, they can also pose risks to their privacy, so following these tips from the NYS Division of Consumer Protection will help ensure their safety." 

Here are some tips to make the user experience safer for children:

Before Buying

√ Confirm that the toy is age appropriate. Make sure the toy is designed for your child's age group. If buying a toy for a small child, confirm that it doesn't pose a choking hazard, and monitor your child while they play with the toy to ensure they are using it safely and correctly. If shopping for video games or a video game console, learn about age-appropriate content ratings and make informed choices about which games are suitable for your child by visiting https://www.esrb.org/.

√ Understand the key features. Does the toy have a camera, microphone, or facial or speech recognition? Make sure you understand what the toy can do and what settings are defaulted when you use the toy.

√ Look for information on parental controls. Some interactive toys and games may come with important parental control information. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that companies provide notice and obtain parental approval before collecting, using or disclosing a child’s personal information. COPPA gives you tools to control the personal information collected from your kids by online services or apps. 

√ Read the policies. As children interact with technology-enabled and connected toys, usage and personal information (like location) may be continuously uploaded to company servers. Read the policy documents to see what information is stored and what is automatically deleted. If this information is not clear, consider choosing another product.

√ Research complaints: Parent blogs, social media and security company websites often sound the alarm well before news stories hit. Check for known security issues before considering a purchase.

After Buying

Make sure you are present when internet-connected toys are being set up.

√ Create an alias. If setup requires additional information, provide a different name or nickname, alternative birthdate, and other modifications to sensitive information. If the toy is hacked, this decreases the chance of child identity theft.

√ Ensure privacy settings are set for maximum protection. Opt-in to all privacy safeguards and block access to chat rooms. Additionally, do occasional checks and keep software up to date.

√ Supervise. When children are playing with technology-enabled toys, watch their interactions closely to understand how the toys work and quickly identify when something is not right with a toy. If the toy lets your child send emails or connect to social media accounts, have an age-appropriate conversation with them about online safety and risky behaviors. For ideas on how to approach the conversation, check out the FTC website: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/kids-socializing-online.

√ Keep the connection secure. Never use technology-enabled toys on public Wi-Fi. Hackers can gain access to the toy and use it to capture other protected information in the home.

√ Strengthen passwords. Make sure your passwords are unique and updated regularly. Try using a passphrase instead of a password, and include special characters and numbers. 

√ Watch out for accessories associated with the toy, such as video games and downloadable apps. Educate children about in-app purchases and explain the importance of getting permission before making any purchases. 

√ Stay informed. Fill out any product registration cards entirely and send them back to the manufacturer so you are notified of recalls.

√ Turn it off. When a child is done playing with a toy or leaves it, make sure the toy is first disconnected from the internet and then turned off. When toys remain connected to the internet in sleep mode, your personal privacy and information can still be accessed.

√ Stay offline. Finally, it’s important to set limits on screen time and encourage children to engage in other forms of play as well. Old-fashioned games, books and puzzles are making a comeback. Consider a family game night – without technology toys!

If you believe your child’s toy was hacked, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information on child identity theft, visit the Division of Consumer Protection website

Follow the New York Department of State on Facebook, X/Twitter and Instagram and check in every Tuesday for more practical tips that educate and empower New York consumers on a variety of topics. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to your email or phone here.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The consumer assistance helpline (1-800-697-1220) is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Weekdays, excluding state holidays. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.

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