Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see exactly where little Susie is when she’s out playing with friends at the neighbourhood park? Or at the zoo with her class? Maybe even set a perimeter called a “geo-fence” around little Johnny, so you’d get an alert if he leaves the designated safe area? Ahhhh……sounds like peace of mind right parents? Sure, unless that electronic security blanket is hacked! And that is a real concern if you listen to a recent warning that’s been issued about the safety of kids’ smartwatches. Many of the watches have a GPS tracker, a screen and microphone, which appear to be great tools, and these watches are being sold to parents who are genuinely trying to keep their offspring safe from harm. However, a recent report says those features can be pretty easily hacked, making them anything but safe.
A coalition of consumer groups is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate the watches (sold under the Caref brand, marketed as Gator in Europe, SeTracker, Xplora and Tinitell) after the release of a report from the Norwegian Consumer Council. (Interesting side note: last year, this coalition, a group including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Citizen and the US Public Interest Research Group, raised the alarm about internet-connected dolls, resulting in an FBI issued warning and the removal of many of the products from stores.) The Norwegian Council tested several of the watches and their researchers were able to hack into the tracking system to find the wearers’ location. The hackers created a phony location and sent it to the tracker app on the watch, so it looked like the child was in one location, when he was actually far away. The researchers also hacked into the cameras and microphones on several of the kids’ watches, and eavesdropped on and talked to the children. And the data isn’t encrypted and could be sent to servers elsewhere, so the kids could be watched from far away, even by someone in another country. Creepy and decidedly unsafe! One manufacturer has already stopped selling its watch, and others are trying to solve the data privacy issues.
So, don’t get sucked into buying cheap versions of what look like reliable technology, potentially allowing you and your child to be lulled into a false sense of security. Instead, this Christmas, consider teaching your child some old-fashioned street smarts, basic safety skills, and buying them a watch that simply tells the time!