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Warning to Irish parents as investigation finds some toys can allow children to talk to strangers

The warning comes after UK watchdog Which? investigated a number of toys on the market.

Image: Rui Vieira via PA Images

THE DATA PROTECTION Commissioner (DPC) is reminding parents in the lead up to Christmas of safety issues surrounding a child’s privacy when using toys with microphones and cameras that can connect to the internet.

The warnings come after UK consumer watchdog Which? urged major retailers to withdraw a number of “connected” toys that are expected to be popular at Christmas, after finding security failures that could put a child’s safety at risk.

An investigation carried out by Which?, along with other security research experts, found issues with Bluetooth and wifi-enabled toys that could allow strangers to talk to a child.

The investigation found that four out of seven of the tested toys could be used to talk to the children playing with them. These included the Furby Connect, i-Que Intelligent Robot, Toy-Fi Teddy and CloudPets.

In each case, the Bluetooth connection had not been secured, meaning that person didn’t need a password, pin code or any other authentication to gain access.

“That person would need hardly any technical know-how to hack your child’s toy,” the investigation report said.

When turned on, the toys could be connected with any device within a Bluetooth range of up to 30 metres.

With the Toy-Fi Teddy, the investigation found that a child could send and receive recorded messages through Bluetooth via a tablet app or smartphone. It found that as the toy had no authentication protections, hackers could send a child voice messages and receive answers.

Advice issued by the DPC around Christmas time last year said:

“These toys, especially dolls, may give the appearance of having a personality and human-like quality that appeals to children. In some instances, the toys can recognise words and react in certain ways which suggest an emotional response to what the child says or does.”

The DPC said any interactions a child might have with these kinds of toys are a potentially sensitive matter.

Parents who are consider are considering buying these kinds of toys this Christmas may wish to take extra care when selecting any electronic toy that has a camera or voice recording ability, connects to the internet or allows remote connection using a smartphone or tablet app.

When buying toys, the DPC said that people should be aware of whether it has microphone, cameras or Bluetooth connections attached. It advised that people read the packaging and manuals that come with toys to see how these sensors work and what you can do to control them.

The full advice issued by the DPC can be found here. The advice will be reviewed again in the coming weeks, according to the DPC.

Read: Central Bank wants bank execs to ‘take a long hard look in the mirror’ over tracker scandal

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