Internet-equipped toys worry kids and parents, study shows

As Siri and Alexa become household names, children's toys are also becoming more technologically advanced by incorporating artificial intelligence. Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino are examples of toys that use voice recordings from their users to become "smarter" the next time they are played with.

However, a new study from the University of Washington shows that this development is concerning to both kids and parents, as issues of awareness and privacy arise.

Through a series of intensive interviews and observations, UW researchers studied the feelings parents and children have toward these "smart" toys. They found that the children didn't know that their toys were recording their voices and that parents were generally concerned about their children's privacy.

According to UW, researchers spoke with nine child-parent pairs and asked them varying questions about their thoughts about and relationships with the toys. For example, they asked the children whether or not they would tell secrets to the toy, and asked the parents whether they would share what their children said to the toy on social media.

For the children, most of them did not know the toys were recording their conversations. However, their fun and approachable exteriors probably gave the children the impression they were trustworthy, the researchers said.

"The toys are a social agent where you might feel compelled to disclose things that you wouldn't otherwise to a computer or cell phone. A toy has that social exterior which might fool you into being less secure on what you tell it," co-lead author Maya Cakmak, an assistant professor at the UW Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the parents, who were aware of the toys' Internet capabilities, were mostly concerned with protecting the information their children shared with the toy and how the information was stored. For example, the parents agreed they wanted parental controls to be able to turn off the Internet connection or control the type of subjects the toy could talk about.

From these findings, the researchers recommend toy designers delete saved conversations after a week or give parents the option to delete stored conversations themselves. They also said designers should make the toys tell the children they are recording their conversations.

According to the UW, the researchers hope this study will spark a greater conversation about privacy, internet security, and toy design. 

"It's inevitable that kids' toys, as with everything else in society, will have computers in them, so it's important to design them with security measures in mind," co-lead author Franziska Roesner, a UW assistant professor at the Allen School, said in a statement. "I hope the security research community continues to study these specific user groups, like children, that we don't necessarily study in-depth."

© 2017 KING-TV


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