The growing smart toy market puts millions of toys with computing power and audio and visual recording capability in children’s hands. Parents considering gifts of digital toys for Christmas or Hanukkah should be aware of the data collection that these toys perform and how to better protect their children’s privacy in this new domain.

“A smart toy is a technologically advanced toy like a robot or interactive game that will seem intelligent because it will start out behaving according to predetermined patterns, but it can alter that behavior in response to outside stimuli. Most smart toys’ design allow them connect to the Internet via Wifi or even through a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection,” shared information security experts France Bélanger and Donna Wertalik, professors in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech and co-hosts of Voices of Privacy, which uses video episodes and other resources to raise general awareness of digital information privacy.

“Examples of a smart toy could be a teddy bear that can teach a child how to properly eat a meal or help with potty training, or a robot doll that can dance with a child and play music,” Bélanger and Wertalik said.   

“More and more of these toys are coming, as the market grew from $14.1 billion in 2022 to $16.7 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach $35.1 Billion by 2027. Parents should know that smart toys have audio access and many have cameras, allowing them to record videos of not only the children but also their environment. A child’s toy can listen to everything a family says 24/7,” Bélanger and Wertalik said.

Belanger and Wertalik offer the following smart toy tips for families:

1.     Check if the toy comes with a camera or microphone.
2.     Read reviews available online about possible privacy concerns.
3.     Read the toy’s manual to identify what the toy can collect and store.
4.     Check what other information — for example, gender and location — the toy will collect.
5.     Check the if the toy has a child-specific privacy policy — something every product designed for children should have.
6.     Check if information the toy collected will be sent to third parties and if there is a way to turn that off.
7.     Check if you can request a record of your child’s data to see what’s on file.

About Bélanger
France Bélanger holds the titles of University Distinguished Professor, R. B. Pamplin Professor, and Tom & Daisy Byrd Senior Faculty Fellow in the Accounting and Information Systems Department within the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. An author, researcher, educator, consultant, and advocate for information privacy, she has studied issues surrounding the topic for two decades and written about the subject for the majority of her 200 published articles.

About Wertalik
Donna Wertalik currently serves as director of marketing strategy and analytics and is a professor of practice in marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. Her role encompasses branding, marketing and metrics for the business school, as well as leading the strategic efforts of Pamplin’s Virtual Identity through Virginia Tech’s Social Media Organization, Prism. She has diverse corporate and academic experience in the identification of marketing opportunities, brand management, social media engagement and measurement, and overall product development.

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