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The Dangers of Talking Teddy Bears and Toasters

With the rise of connected devices such as TVs and toy dolls, Common Sense Kids Action supports SB 327, a bill that would ensure that "smart" devices meet basic security and privacy requirements.

A stranger watching your baby sleep, or carrying on conversations with your child through a smart toy, or listening in on your conversations with your child. As we learn on a seemingly daily basis, many so-called "smart" devices are actually pretty dumb: easily hacked and hoovering up information just because they can. Privacy and security are more often than not an afterthought in the rush to market. And with connectivity moving from our computers and cell phones to our toasters and teddy bears, we're putting more of ourselves and our kids at risk.

This new technology is exciting and offers lots of opportunities and promise. It also offers a lot of potential pitfalls. The combination of insecurity, interconnectedness, and massive (and often unexpected) information collection creates a triple whammy for families. The devices themselves, such as your new talking toy or a smart fridge, can be hacked and remotely controlled. Or they can be used as a vulnerable entry point to the rest of your home network, putting broader security and even physical safety at risk -- a hacker remotely opening your connected garage door to gain access, for example. Or they can be exploited for the sensitive information they collect, anything from audio and voice recordings to the names of shows you watch, the number of steps you've taken, your child's precise location, how and when you sleep, and even which foods you eat. Companies may share this information with advertisers or use it to profile you or your family. And criminals may use it for worse.

Adults often don't realize all that they're getting -- or, rather, giving up -- when they buy these devices for their homes and families. And children -- who are using not only connected toys but smart TVs, microwaves, and home assistants -- have no idea.

We expect online companies that collect our personal information to keep it secure and to notify us if it isn't. And we expect them to tell us what information they collect, through privacy policies and other notices. In California, it's more than an expectation -- it's the law. And such legal protections should apply to connected devices and the personal and sensitive information they collect.

Take action!

Families deserve to know, at the point of purchase, if a toaster can record their conversations. They deserve to have a say about that toaster's recording them. And they deserve security from that toaster and the network it connects to. That's why Common Sense is proud to sponsor SB 327, authored by California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. This "Teddy Bear and Toaster" bill will ensure that connected devices meet basic security requirements and that consumers can make informed choices about these devices and the information they collect and share. It's time to make all of our lives a little smarter.

Sign up to become a Kids Action Advocate today to get important updates about "smart" devices and their effects on kids and families!

Ariel Fox Johnson
Ariel Fox Johnson is Senior Counsel for Global Policy at Common Sense Media, where she advocates for smart practices, policies, and rules to help all kids thrive in today’s wired world. Her work focuses on enhancing family privacy rights, strengthening students' educational privacy, and promoting robust consumer protections in the online world. She frequently advises policymakers, industry, and tech experts, and has helped develop laws on student privacy, consumer privacy, and the Internet of Things. Ariel is a graduate of Harvard College and Law School. Prior to joining Common Sense, Ariel worked on privacy, media, intellectual property, and technology matters at corporate law firms, and provided pro bono assistance to nonprofits and asylum seekers.