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Smart toys - should you buy them?

By Andrew Laughlin

Are kids smart toys safe? We reveal the worrying results of an investigation into privacy and security for some of the latest must-have toy tech gadgets.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

If you're considering buying a smart or connected toy, before you head to the shops make sure you download our buying guide below:

What are smart toys?

Smart toys, also known as connected toys, come in all shapes and sizes, but all have some degree of connectivity allowing you and your child to interact with the toy via a smart device.

However, the drive to ‘get connected’ shouldn’t come at the cost of privacy, security and safety. Especially given that some of the toys we've investigated were aimed at children as young as three years old.

What's the risk?

A quick Google on connected toys will bring up a frightening array of news stories about potential hacks or data breaches.

Watch: how easy is it to hack a smart toy?

In the video above you can see how easy it is to use a connected toy to send a message to a child. This is all because the connection isn't secure. Our concern is that this could easily get into the hands of the wrong people, who could use the same method to ‘speak’ to children from outside the home. 

This was one of the toys we tested as part of a smart toys investigation we carried out in 2017. We tested smart toys again in 2019, and found similar issues, along with new risks. 

And the toys we've tested aren't isolated incidents. 

In February 2017, the communications watchdog in Germany advised parents with the Cayla talking doll to destroy it after security researchers raised security and privacy concerns about the toy.  

It's not just the potential to hack a toy which is the problem, In 2015 leading toy maker VTech suffered a massive data breach which resulted in the details of five million parents and children being leaked, along with photos and chat logs.

Hackers and your home: how to protect your family 

With  smart toys being marketed to children as young as three years old, the vulnerabilities are worrying.

The European Commission and other bodies are currently investigating whether such toys are in violation of EU laws on data protection. 

However, we're not just concerned about insecure connected toys. Previous investigations have exposed flaws in a whole range of gadgets, from coffee machines to cameras, and routers to robot vacuum cleaners. 

At Which? we'll be testing more products for how they safeguard your privacy and security. In the mean time, find out five ways to protect your smart home from hackers.

Download our smart toys safety checklist 

To help keep your family safe, we've compiled a smart toy checklist of the things you need to be aware of before buying a connected toy and once you've brought one home. Download it via the link below. 

Download PDF

Read the results of our smart toys investigations

See how easy it was for our experts to hack into a robot, a cat toy and other security issues we encountered

Connected toys: What we're calling for

In 1967, Which? successfully campaigned to promote the use of lead-free paint in toys. Some 50 years on and we feel unsecured connected toys pose an equally important risk.

Which? feels that more care needs to be taken when designing smart gadgets and toys, and the security and privacy of the user should not be left as afterthoughts. Manufacturers and retailers must take the security of internet-enabled and smart products seriously by incorporating it as a top priority from the outset

We're calling for all connected toys with proven security or privacy issues to be taken off sale.

Could your baby monitor be hacked? 

In our lab, we test many smart products for how they might impact on your family’s privacy and security. Baby monitors are one example. 

Having your baby monitor hacked is the last thing on your mind when choosing which one to buy, but our snapshot investigation revealed there are valid concerns about some models which you need to be aware of before you buy one.

In each of our latest baby monitors reviews we provide a privacy rating, which gives you an indication of how secure the baby monitor is, based on an assessment of: privacy settings, how complicated the security features are to set up, whether or not any data is encrypted, and the security of any cameras and videos or images.

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