My daughter has a toy dinosaur that talks to her. She named him Bob, and she can ask him anything: What's the circumference of Jupiter? Who won the World Series in 1965? What is the Hokey-Pokey really all about? But she's four, so she mostly asks him how to spell her name.
Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty
Bob falls under the category of smart toys, and therefore, I should keep an eye on him. Earlier this week, the FBI released a PSA alerting parents to the potential dangers of these types of toys with microphones, GPS tracking, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity. The devices, the FBI warns, could be giving criminals access to children's photographs, home addresses and other private information. It's happened before: Baby monitors have been used to terrorise toddlers. A company that sells smart teddy bears leaked 800,000 user account credentials. And one security expert discovered that the stuffed animal itself could be hacked and turned into a spy device.
It's unsettling, no doubt. But instead of going around and holding an axe above Beary Potter or poor Bob or anything that connects to the internet, take these sensible precautions.
Read about the toy. Josh Ochs, the founder of Safe Smart Social, a digital safety resource for parents, teachers and students, recommends checking Amazon reviews to see if other parents have noticed anything weird about the toy. Say, for instance, it suddenly turned on in the middle of the night. "We need to work together," Ochs says about navigating the new frontier of "smart" everything. "You're not on an island."
You can also read about COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) in the US as well as online safety in Australia, and find out if the toy manufacturer takes extra measures to anonymise and protect all data received. My kid's talking dinosaur, it turns out, is 100 per cent COPPA compliant. And he only listens when users actively engage with him by pressing his tummy. He won't eavesdrop or jump into random conversations. We're keeping Bob.
As a general rule, you shouldn't need to provide a child's last name, email or address to be able to play with a toy.
Delete information regularly. Many toys have a reset button that you can press to delete any information collected by the toy.
Put the toy in a closet or chest when it's not in use. Or unplug it, or take the batteries out. "Make sure it can't hear what's going on," Ochs says. "Nobody needs an Alexa in their kid's room."