Smart toys may lead to having private information collected, consumer advocates say

PITTSBURGH — From interactive plush toys--- to augmented reality headsets, some of the top toys this holiday season are tech!

Consumer advocates say the wireless connection those toys need may put families at risk of having private information collected.

That’s why parents may need to think ahead.

The Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, just released its report, “Trouble in Toyland 2023.” The report warns that many smart toys could have unsecured Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections. Essentially, toys that could spy on you, capturing all kinds of data and detailed information about your home or space.

“It can also increase the odds that your family is the victim of fraud, scams or identity theft, “said PIRG’s R.J. Cross, who co-authored the 2023 report.

“Anything that can connect to the internet you need to take a gander at first,” said Titania Jordan, with Bark Technologies, a company that helps parents monitor kids’ screen habits.

Jordan advises parents to take a completely unexpected approach this holiday. She says you have some work to do---before you wrap your kids’ tech gifts.

“Open it up. Connect it to your home Wi-Fi. Go through the settings and implement parental controls. Make sure that piece of tech is safe for your child when they go to unwrap it and play with it.”

Jordan says you can Google the name of the toy, and the words “parental controls” if that information isn’t included or easily visible.

Jordan also reminds parents the holidays are a good time to reinforce limits on tech use.

“Let them know that just like you wouldn’t give them a tub of their favorite flavor of ice cream and a spoon and say have as much as you want, you’re not going to give them access to just play with tech as long as they want,” Jordan said.

The full report by the PIRG Education Fund is available at https://pirg.org/resources/trouble-in-toyland-2023/

Titania Jordan runs a popular Facebook page for parents looking for quick answers and advice about tech and their kids called “Parenting in a Tech World.”

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