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Kids Toys Could Be The Next Big Spying Tool

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Expert warns Internet-connected toys can be hacked into and transformed into spying devices

A leading technology organisation has warned that childrens toys could be remotely hacked by security services and then be used to spy on suspects.

The Orwellian warning was made to MPs by Antony Walker of techUK, a tech body that says it represents over 850 companies.

Spy Toys

Walker was speaking with the Commons science and technology committee, and pointed out that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill would place a legal duty on internet providers to assist in hacking any device.

child spyWalker was quoted by the BBC as saying this could include driverless cars or household appliances connected to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things.

He called on the Home Office to be clear where it draws the line over what it calls “equipment interference”. He also highlighted recent concerns about “smart toys” that connect to the internet and have microphones and cameras built-in.

“A range of devices that have been in the news recently, in relation to a hack, are children’s toys, that children can interact with,” he reportedly told the committee. “These are devices that may sit in a child’s bedroom but are accessible.

“In theory, the manufacturer of those products could be the subject of a warrant to enable equipment interference with those devices.

“So the potential extent, I think, is something that needs to be carefully considered.”

Hello Barbie

This is not the first time that these concerns have been raised.

Earlier this year, toy maker Mattel triggered privacy worries for parents with the development of a Wi-Fi connected Barbie doll.

The ‘Hello Barbie’ is designed to remember what kids have said, and hold realistic two-way conversations with their owners.

The doll comes equipped with a microphone and speaker, allowing the child to speak to the doll, and the doll to respond with a pre-programmed script.

The companies will reportedly uses these “saved conversations” to discover what the kids are saying to their dolls, and what kind of responses need to generated.

Last month electronic toy company Vtech confirmed that its customer database had been hacked. This led to concerns that stolen data could be used to identify children, as names, dates of birth and even gender were stolen.

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