Smart Toys Are Creepily Spying on Your Kids, Watchdog Report Says

Smart toys are spying on young children, tracking what they say and do without parents knowledge or permission, according to a November watchdog report.

In an report titled, “Trouble in Toyland 2023,” the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund warned of the threat of increasingly popular toys loaded with AI spyware. reports: The report listed a number of playthings and their concerning spy-like technology, and also gave advice as to what to do about them.

Nowadays, even “simpler” toys and games are equipped with data-gathering A.I. They’re often rigged with cameras and microphones for facial and vocal recognition and even GPS tracking.

Many toys, like miniature soccer balls and play doctor’s kits, come with apps and can connect to the internet or Bluetooth.

Some are geared toward children as young as 3 years old, according to the report.

For example, Fisher Price’s Smart Toy Bear was meant for children 3 – 8.

The bear could listen, talk and record conversations for future reference, according to PIRG. But in 2019, the product was discontinued because of the app’s vulnerability to hacking.

In October, an 11-year-old New Jersey girl was kidnapped by a man who allegedly contacted her on Roblox, a popular gaming platform. In this case, she was later found safe, but she was more than 100 miles from her home, according to The New York Post.

Roblox denied the two met on the platform, according to the Daily Mail.

“It’s chilling to learn what some of these toys can do,” said the PIRG report’s co-author, Teresa Murray, in a news release. “Smart toys can be useful, fun or educational, but interacting with some of them can create frightening situations for too many families.”

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Privacy isn’t the only concern. Health is potentially at risk, too.

For instance, PIRG mentioned the unknown effects of virtual reality and Meta Quest headsets. Because the technology is still so new, it is too early to know how it will affect developing brains.

“It’s just not worth the risk right now,” Dr. Mark Bertin, a developmental pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College, told PIRG.

The report recommended a number of precautions parents should take to protect their children:

  • As a basic step, parents should know whether the toy connects to the internet.
  • If the toy has a microphone or camera, parents should know when it’s recording and how they will know it’s recording.
  • The report also suggested looking at the toy’s specific privacy policy online, not just the company’s policy in general.
  • Parents should research the toy company to see whether it has a history of controversy or privacy concerns. Online reviews of the product are also a good way to find complaints and red flags raised by other parents, according to PIRG.

Like it or not, smart toys have become a reality.

The global market for them grew to $16.65 billion in 2023, up from $14.11 billion in 2022, according to Research and Markets, a global market research firm.

It’s expected to grow to $35.11 billion by 2027.