#CyberFLASH: Children can now talk to their toys — and marketers, hackers are trying to listen in

mobile-securityYour daughter rips open the wrapping paper and screams with excitement – it’s Talk To Me Tammy!

After connecting the doll to your home’s wireless network through a smartphone app, she and Tammy start chatting. Tammy tells her jokes, quizzes her on some math questions and says her favourite colour is pink. She asks your daughter lots of questions about her likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, and family and friends.

The next day, you notice advertisements for products your daughter told Tammy she wants on your Facebook page. That’s because buried in Tammy’s terms of service — which you didn’t read — was a clause authorizing the toy company to sell the data Tammy collects to marketers.

Meanwhile, hackers who don’t want to pay the toy company for your daughter’s valuable data are working on a way to access it for free.

They’re breaking into the database in the cloud that stores your daughters’ conversations with Tammy, trying to piece together enough information to steal her identity in the hopes she won’t figure it out until she turns 18 and tries to apply for a credit card. They’re also working on a way to hijack Tammy’s microphone and speaker, making it possible for strangers to say nasty things to your daughter and listen to your family whenever they want.

These risks aren’t just hypothetical. As smart toys such as Mattel Inc.’s Hello Barbie – a Wi-Fi enabled doll that talks to its owner – hit shelves, privacy and children’s rights advocates are raising concerns about how toy companies will use, store, and safeguard the data they collect.

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