The cute Bear from Fisher-Price looks like children love teddy bears. Only his head is unusually large and square. Inside there is a lot of technology. A camera is hidden behind the cute looking eyes, the nose is actually a small microphone. Of course, there are also speakers and voice and image recognition software. Fisher Price describes the cuddly bear as an interactive learning friend with the brain of a computer. The teddy listens, talks to your child and remembers what he likes and when he has to go to bed. Parents can connect to the teddy via WLAN and, for example, play a bedtime song.
The Fisher Price Bear belongs to the so-called “Smart Toys” – intelligent toys. They are increasingly finding their way into children’s rooms at home. The special thing about these cuddly toys is that they can make small talk with your child, do math or even learn a foreign language. In the process, the toy apparently responds individually to the needs of the child. Dino, for example, registers and stores the learning progress, age and developmental stage of its counterpart. When a five-year-old child asks him how far the moon is from the earth, he replies, “It’s very far away. Too far to walk”. While answering a nine-year-old, “The moon is 238,900 miles away and moving farther away every year.”
This trend has not passed Barbie by. Hello Barbie is one of the best-known smart toys and has been heavily criticized since its launch. The doll not only converses with the child, but also records what the child says alone or with others and sends these recordings to the parents. Networking via WLAN is sufficient for this. However, Hello Barbie is not available in Germany or is “only” sold in the USA.
Toys that entertain the child, teach him something along the way and can be controlled by you as parents – that actually sounds like a sensible purchase! But networked, intelligent dolls, dinos and robots also bring risks.
Everything that, for example, Hello Barbie records from your child is collected by the manufacturer, i.e. stored on external servers. What happens to the data, how it is stored, evaluated and passed on, is usually not known. There have already been a few cases in the past where hackers initially gained access to numerous voicemail messages and children’s profiles without being noticed. A neighbor could also easily connect to some toys through WLAN or via Bluetooth, as it is usually enough to be a maximum of 15 meters away. Then a complete stranger could communicate with your child, question him or even threaten him, for example through a text that the doll reads out after typing it in, or through voice messages. My friend Cayla has now been banned in Germany for this reason. The i-Que robot, Toy-Fi Teddy and Chip the dog also have insecure wireless connections. However, they are still available.
Toys that allow you to have a glimpse of your little ones seem like a good thing at first glance. But children also have a right to privacy, which must be specially protected. A child trusts his toy with secrets that are emailed to parents without his consent. With one click, parents can then also spread the recorded conversations via social networks. Constant control and monitoring of the child by a toy goes beyond the duty of supervision. Sharing via Facebook & Co. without involving the child also violates the Personal rights of the child.
As a parent, you should be clear above all that it is still you who is responsible for raising your child. Devices like Hello Barbie & Co. cannot take over this, because they are not friends and not a substitute for parents, but remain devices.
So weigh well whether a smart toy is actually right for your child and fits your parenting style. Listening, answering questions, singing a song to go to sleep – these are things that are much nicer for the child when you take over. Because a teddy can be as smart as it is, it does not replace mom and dad!