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Don’t buy your kids internet-connected toys

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2015 file photo, Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom during the North American International Toy Fair in…
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

There’s no way to hack a Slinky.

On Monday, Motherboard reported that toy company Spiral Toys had been part of a massive cloud security failure over the last year. The database that stored the accounts for the company’s CloudPets teddy bear, which lets parents send audio messages through the body of the bear to their children while they’re away, was left open in such a way that security researchers, and potentially hackers, were able to access it. In some cases, the passwords of more than 800,000 accounts were weak enough for them to break in. Motherboard added that researchers were able to guess the URLs where the recordings parents had sent were stored, and in some cases, could have listened to them with ease.

This isn’t the first time internet-connected toys have been shown to be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” doll allows owners to have conversations with it (sort of like a version of Siri embodied in a doll with completely unrealistic human proportions), and information from the doll is sent back to Mattel. A few months after it was released, researchers discovered the doll could be turned into a secret listening device when it was connected to wifi. Hackers could also potentially use the device to gain access to other devices connected to a user’s network.

And there are other devices that have been accused of being worrisome to have in the home. Some allow recordings to be sent to a third party for processing, and potentially being used to target ads based on what the child was talking to the toy about.

One of the best parts of being a child is using your imagination to create worlds and words for your toys, which kind of evaporates if the toys start talking back to you. There’s really no need to add the internet into this equation right now, and really, most of the ways that toy companies are introducing technology into products would be better served by an iPad with Skype, or having an extended conversation with a Google Home. It’s a lot like many of the smart-home devices on the market right now: Just because we can make an internet-connected toilet, or a smart faucet, doesn’t mean we need them.

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