How to Tell if Your Holiday Presents are Spying on You

Do you realize your child’s doll may be gathering face and voice recognition data while your toaster takes note?

Holiday presents may be spying
Germany branded Cayla a spy and suggested parents smash her to bits with a hammer


The Dark Side of Dolls

As anyone who’s watched Squid Game knows, dolls can have a dark side.

Germany is so worried about My Friend Cayla’s interactive microphones and voice recognition tech that Berlin issued a ‘kill order’ against the US-made doll, suggesting parents smash her frozen smile with a hammer.

Even Barbie is suspect. Mattel discontinued its interactive Hello Barbie doll and her smart Dreamhouse after concerns that Barbie was asking too many questions and recording answers. Was Barbie an undercover agent in addition to her many other colorful careers?

How to Tell if Your Holiday Gifts Are Spying on You

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Do you realize your child’s doll may be gathering face and voice recognition data while your toaster takes note?

Holiday presents may be spying
Germany branded Cayla a spy and suggested parents smash her to bits with a hammer


The Dark Side of Dolls

As anyone who’s watched Squid Game knows, dolls can have a dark side.

Germany is so worried about My Friend Cayla’s interactive microphones and voice recognition tech that Berlin issued a ‘kill order’ against the US-made doll, suggesting parents smash her frozen smile with a hammer.

Even Barbie is suspect. Mattel discontinued its interactive Hello Barbie doll and her smart Dreamhouse after concerns that Barbie was asking too many questions and recording answers. Was Barbie an undercover agent in addition to her many other colorful careers?

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Spying gifts

Reports suggest 75.4 bn devices will be connected to the Internet by 2025, increasing the risk of hacking and espionage. So which of your ‘smart’ presents might be spying?

Potentially all of them - from Alexa to smart cameras, children’s karaoke machines, smart robots, and smart stuffed animals. Even your light bulbs, smart toaster, baby monitor, and thermostat may be gathering data that can be sold on to advertisers and data brokers. 

Smart homes may be spying on you
Some 75bn devices are expected to be connected to the web by 2025

Fight back from Spies

Poor security puts your family at risk from the banal - targeted ads that chase you around the web - to the extreme: being stalked with a Bluetooth tagger. So how can you fight back? Here are five tips to ensure your presents are safe:

1
. Check publications like Consumer Reports for safety and privacy reports before you shop for internet-connected devices. Download Which?’s safety checklist when you’re buying or setting up toys.

2. Decide if you really need to buy a device with a camera, microphone or other sensors. If you do, adjust the privacy settings to minimize the amount of personal data collected. Check the US Federal Trade Commission’s advice on securing internet-connected devices.


Smart homes
Decide whether you really need to keep an electronic eye on the catflap before buying

Privacy vs Convenience


3. Balance privacy threats against convenience. The Digital Standard offers case studies to help you weigh the options.

4. If you’re buying second-hand toys or products on eBay or other sites, check manufacturer recall or safety alert lists online. Mattel’s list, for example, notes Hello Barbie is discontinued, but that might not stop resellers from offering it online.

5. Check the YourThings scorecard rating when buying connected devices to help evaluate a products’ strengths and weaknesses.

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