Data-grabbing toys expose American children to hidden dangers
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
This past Christmas, American parents spent an average $330 on gifts for each child. Many of these gifts were tech-oriented gadgets – with so-called "eyes" and "ears” with sensors capable of picking up on sensitive information.
A new report published by ParentsTogether, a nonprofit organization that covers issues impacting children and families, show how many of the gifts pose a danger to the well-being of American youths.
The report, tilted "The Dangerous Tech Toys Report 2022," is divided into four sections: products marketed to preschoolers, elementary schooler, teens and one that impact kids of all ages.
The authors argue no device created for young people that connects to the internet "can be made completely safe," largely because "tech companies haven’t designed their products with children’s safety in mind."
In the preschoolers category, the report authors zeroed in on eKids Paw patrol Walkie Talkies.
One of the potential dangers of the device, according to the report, is that young users may end up communicating with people they don't know.
The report states that some children have been in direct communication with "adult strangers" on the walkie talkies.
The authors reference a mother who went to the police after a male stranger asked her daughter to be friends on the device.
Another parent allegedly found her child in direct communication with a truck driver.
Another device, the Singing Machine, a karaoke player also for preschoolers, exposes children to very real dangers. Anyone, according to the report, can connect to the machine via Bluetooth. Although a child cannot communicate directly with others on the device, a child predator could ask the child to come outside, warns the authors.
In the category for elementary school children, the report focuses on the Amazon Fire HD Kids Pro, designed for children ages 3–7. The authors warn that Amazon collects and stores inordinate amounts of data on all users, including children, and that the data could then be used to target customers with more products.
The device is also enabled with Alexa Skills, which functions like an app for the cloud-based voice service.
According to an Amazon rundown on all things Alexa related, due to its "interactive voice interface, Alexa gives users a hands-free way to interact with your skill."
Users, even young children, "can use their voice to perform everyday tasks like checking the news, listening to music or playing a game.
Users can also use their voice to control cloud-connected devices.
Moreover, the authors warn, third parties can use Alexa Skills to "collect, use and sell" a child’s "data and voice interactions."
With devices marketed to teens, the report first focuses on Meta, the parent company for Facebook, and its Quest VR Headset. The device, designed to immerse users in a completely virtual world, poses a number of distinct dangers, according to the authors.
Children who have used the product have reported cases of bullying and stalking, and "even sexual harassment of their avatars."
Child users have also allegedly been able to gain admission to virtual strip clubs, where "they were propositioned for sex acts" and exposed to coarse language and graphic, sexual content.
The report also zooms in on the Hidrate Spark Pro Smart water Bottle, marketed as the smartest water bottle on the planet.
The bottle’s "intelligence" comes from the fact that it is synched with an app, tracking a person’s location as well as logging their height, weight, age and levels of activity.
Hidrate, caution the authors, have previously said that the company "will sell or give this" sensitive information to third party actors for "marketing or other purposes."
Just the News contacted the makers of all of the products cited in this story but did not get a response before the story was published.
The report also focuses on products and devices aimed at all age groups. They include the smart phones and watches, computers laptops and tablets. The use of these devices is intimately connected with social media use.
The authors warn parents that prolonged use of social media platforms is strongly correlated with depression, anxiety and sleep-related issues as well as eating disorders – a frequent concern also among mental health experts.
Lastly, the authors examine YouTube premium subscriptions, telling parents that although content is often age restricted, it is easy for children of all ages to locate inappropriate content with graphic language, violence, and lewd sexual imagery.