I Spy? What Parents Should Know About New Tech Toys This Holiday

By Amy Cao | Dec. 2, 2019 | Advocacy

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As any parent knows, opportunities to get the latest gadget, entertainment subscription, or marginally educational game for our kids abound year-round. But during no other season are we as motivated to take advantage of a sale like the holidays. Knowing the siren call that is the internet, especially for overextended parents in the final weeks of the year, Mozilla did their homework on the latest smart toys and games—yes, the same ones on your kid’s wish list––so you don’t have to. Between averting the next tantrum or guilt trip that only one’s own offspring can inflict, you already have enough on your plate.

Here’s our modern-day blessing and curse: if there’s a parenting challenge, there’s probably some device to help us address it. But those devices? They’re getting smarter and smarter, learning not just your preferences, but those of your 7-year-old.

This year, Mozilla reviewed a range of new connected toys and drones and found that even when devices are secure (meaning they require strong passwords, offer easy-to-use parental controls, and more) they can still collect a lot of data about the people who use them—and how that information is used by the makers, how it’s stored and how it’s shared is anyone’s guess, especially if the privacy policy isn’t specific.

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See which of the 14 new toys and games met Mozilla’s Minimum Security Standards this holiday.

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For parents like journalist Virginia Sole-Smith, author of The Eating Instinct and mom of two, whether to buy into the trend of connected devices, like the new Vivofit Jr 2 and Ace 2 fitness tracker for kids 4 years and up, comes down to something entirely different: What’s our motivation?

“Children don't need [connected devices like] fitness trackers because we don't need to teach kids to love movement. We just need to get out of their way and give them opportunities to move in ways they love, like play!” Sole-Smith says. “Taking something as joyful as play and turning it into something they need to track and measure is totally counterproductive.”

Good Bot or Bad Bot? How To Decide For Yourself

In the past few years, rising demand for STEAM education gained mainstream attention, motivating companies of all sizes to get in the game of teaching kids to code and to reevaluate gendered marketing of toys for kids. But reactions to the proliferation of connected devices for children have been mixed considering “smart” toys could also mean anything from insecure WiFi connectivity to built-in microphones and sensors capable of collecting data on young users.

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How creepy are this year’s popular toys? Use the Creep-O-Meter and tell us what you think

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While most of the smart toys and games in this year’s guide met the Minimum Security Standards, two fell a bit short on transparency—a toy robot that teaches kids to code and programmable Star Wars Legos.

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Still, it’s not to say that we shouldn’t get internet-connect toys and devices. After all, what parent wouldn’t gladly hand over a tablet like Amazon’s Fire HD Kids Edition during a long day of holiday travel to ease “Are we there yet?” grumbling from the backseat?

For parents like Lon Binder, who served as Chief Technology Officer at Warby Parker for 8 years, the risks and rewards of smart toys come hand in hand. The solution for non-technical parents isn’t to run away, but to practice vigilance.

“Parents and others should take the risk of security breaches very seriously—breaches are not just a possibility, they will happen,” Lon says. “But we shouldn't let the risk hold us back from enjoying modern toys and learning devices. Just be smart about it. Be aware, and go have fun!”


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