RELEASE: ‘Smart’ toys can put children at risk, new report shows

Media Contacts
R.J. Cross

Director, Don't Sell My Data Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Parents may not realize how often toys gather their children’s data

For immediate release: Thursday, December 8, 2022
For more information:
R.J. Cross, Don’t Sell My Data Campaign Director, [email protected], 316-312-5947
Mark Morgenstein, Media Relations Director, [email protected], 678-427-1671

BOSTON – Smart toys with high-tech components such as an internet connection or software integration often collect and use a lot of data about children, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds. Smart Decisions about Smart Toys: High-tech toys can put children at risk builds on the group’s recent investigation of dangerous toys undertaken for the 37th annual Trouble in Toyland report. 

The new report looks at the dangers posed by high-tech toys, including the large amounts of data these toys can gather about children, which increases the chances a child’s data will be exposed in a breach or a hack.

  “Toys are toys. They shouldn’t be devices companies use to harvest our children’s personal information, picture or voice,” said R.J. Cross, director of the PIRG Education Fund’s Don’t Sell My Data campaign. “Unnecessary data collection puts our children at risk. Toy manufacturers must take the safety and security of children seriously.”

Parents may be surprised to learn how much data companies collect. For example, the manufacturer of the software that brings the Fuzzible Friends Alexa-connected toy to life states in its privacy policy that it may receive the geolocation and transcripts of a child’s interactions with the toy, contingent on parental consent. If a child states their age while playing with the toy, for instance, that information would be included in the transcript. 

Toy manufacturers may partner with other firms to process and store data, and reserve the right to share a child’s data with other parties, possibly including third-party marketers. The more data a company gathers on children and the more companies it shares it with, the higher the chance of that information falling into the wrong hands. Smart toy manufacturers have exposed the personal data of millions of children online. In one notable instance, a breach of the smart toy company VTech in 2015 exposed the names, birthdays and genders of 6.4 million children online. In some cases, even children’s photos and voice recordings were exposed.

Other risks include unsecured internet connections which can allow a toy to become an eavesdropping device, a microphone that bad actors could potentially use to talk to kids and toys with companion apps that may include in-app purchases, where kids may run up big bills by accident. 

The odds that parents will see a smart toy on their kids’ holiday wish lists is rising, given the growth of the market. Smart toy revenue is forecasted to reach $18 billion by 2023 — a nearly 200% increase from 2018.

Smart Decisions about Smart Toys: High-tech toys can put children at risk also includes a tips guide for parents thinking about buying a smart toy this shopping season. Among other tips, it explains how to look at a toy’s terms and conditions and privacy policy for red flags.