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6 Dec 2021

Can you safely give second-hand tech to your kids?

Buying or giving used tech to your child is a good way to save money, but our research shows there are security, privacy and even safety risks to consider

Everything is getting more expensive these days and, in the run-up to Christmas many parents may be looking to save money by giving their child used and second-hand tech rather than splashing out on pricey new devices.

A quarter of parents gave a second hand tablet to their child, and just under half handed them a used smartphone, according to a 2021 Which? survey of 2,010 parents with a child under 12.

However, there are potential risks in giving old tech to your little ones, from them downloading an app that they shouldn't, to being targeted by hackers.

Read on for advice on how to safely give old tech to your child so you can save some cash and have peace of mind in the process.

What's the risk of of using second-hand devices?

Which? has done extensive work on exposing the risks of insecure tech, but sadly the threat of cyber-criminals targeting our devices is on the rise.

From toddlers to pensioners, we're all using our phones, laptops, tablets and smart devices more and more. So, malicious hackers are seeing them as a way to perpetuate fraud and other crimes.

The problem with old tech is that it can be hard to tell if it is vulnerable.

How common is it to give your child a second-hand device?

We asked parents about what tech they gave to their kids. With tablets, 76% bought a new device compared to 24% giving their child a used product.

However, with mobile phones 55% bought new compared to a much closer 44% giving a second-hand device. For laptops, it was 62% new against 36% second-hand.

It's positive to see that around 70% of parents checked to see if the device they were handing on to their child was still receiving security updates, as these provide vital protections against hacking threats. However, around one in five (20%) parents did not do this.

We know from our research that finding information on software updates can be challenging, so even those who do check might not get all the information they need.

Use our free online tools to see how long a mobile phone or tablet that you are considering for your child will still receive vital software updates.

Mobile phone reviews - which models score highest?

Where do parents buy products for their kids?

In our survey, the majority of parents unsurprisingly used Amazon to buy a product for their child, including new and used tech devices.

The second most popular place was eBay, with 40% of parents using the online marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace is growing as a parent's favourite, with 18% shopping there for bargains, including second-hand products, and 12% shopped at AliExpress.

Worryingly, around a quarter of parents did not check for age suitability when shopping for products for their child on Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, although that dropped to 16% on AliExpress, suggesting parents are more cautious there.

Out of support devices widely on sale

As there aren't many decent Android tablets for under £100 (Amazon's cheap Fire tablet range runs a modified or 'forked' version of the operating system), you could be tempted to get an old tablet for your child at a knockdown price.

However, we recently exposed the insecure tech products being sold on online marketplaces, including out of support Android tablets being marketed to children.

When we checked eBay in October 2021 we found 87 Android tablets running an out-of-date version of Android (deemed as Android 7.0 or earlier) . Many tablets ran Android 4.4 KitKat, which had its last update more than seven years ago.

Many of these were being marketed as new or 'opened but never used' on eBay, and being actively marketed for use by children.

Don't give any out of support Android tablets to your kids - go for a device running at least Android 8.1, or ideally Android 9, 10 or 11.

What to look out for when buying second hand devices

Follow the below key tips to ensure you shop safely when considering second-hand tech for your child.

  • Read the listing carefully: Take your time and really analyse the product listing - if you are in any doubt as to whether it's legitimate, look elsewhere.
  • Software updates: As covered above, don't buy or hand down any device for your child that is no longer being supported. Go for a version that is known to still be in support.
  • Beware of unknown brands: There is a lot of tech out there from fringe or unknown brands, or even without a brand at all. Go for a trusted name if you can.
  • Cheap doesn't mean cheerful: You can find many supposed bargains online, such as a smartwatch for £15 or a tablet for £50, but some are simply too good to be true.

How to safely give an old phone or tablet to your child

If you still want to give your child a used device, follow our tips for doing this safely:

  • Ensure all data has been wiped: Before giving the phone to your child ensure that it has been properly reset and there's no data or accounts still linked from the previous owner.
  • Run updates: Go into the settings and ensure that the device is running the latest available software version and that it is set to update automatically so your child doesn't have to remember to do this.
  • Set parental controls: Just 42% of parents in our survey activated parental controls when giving their child a smartphone. Make sure you do this so that they can't download anything they shouldn't.
  • Lock down accounts: Only a third put extra security on accounts for their child's smartphone. Not only does this increase security, but it also helps with limiting their spending on apps and online games.
  • Limit screen time: More recent versions of Android and iOS let you limit how long your child can use their device. However, just 35% of parents said they did this with their kid's smartphone in our survey.