Internet of Things toys are fun but raise privacy and socio-political concerns

October 21, 2020  |  Karoline Gore
This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

An estimated 38 billion devices are connected to the internet this year, highlighting the fact that the Internet of Things (IoT) is not a farfetched futuristic concept, but the reality for most of the modern world. Many of these connected devices are toys that children enjoy, but no matter how fun they may be, challenges have come to the surface due to privacy concerns and socio-political issues pertaining to gender-neutral toys. It turns out, toys are a complicated issue that revive many age-old worries that fuel one important societal concern - the protection of every child. 

IoT toys and perceived risks

In a world where a whopping 90 percent of children under the age of two are already connected online through their toys or their smart devices, many parents are now keeping themselves abreast with the latest updates to ensure that they do not inadvertently purchase toys that are not good for their kids. While smart devices are still a cause for concern among parents, they have been around for a while, and households already know how to manage them. IoT toys, on the other hand, are new, and the very concept is a double-bladed sword that can shape a generation while exposing them to the possibility of being listened to or watched. The public agenda in the United States and internationally revolves around the risks associated with kids and their internet-based toys. Risks such as stranger danger, pornographic and violent content, cyberbullying, and data misuse come to mind. But these risks can be mitigated as long as parents are armed with the right tools and knowledge.  

Gender-neutral toys and IoT

Gender and gender conformity has impacts on children, making it a common contention point for decades. Adding IoT toys into the mix makes it a new phenomenon though, as gender-neutrality is not yet applied in this new environment. There are several examples in the realm of IoT that differentiate games and toys by gender, and this can be seen in their marketing campaigns whenever they use overt markers such as colors and names. While this is done purely for commercial reasons, segmentation is no longer the norm, as 76 percent of parents now steer their daughters to boys’ toys and their sons to girls’ toys based on a Pew Research released in 2017

Doing the opposite may be a good idea, according to researchers, but it is still important for parents to understand the importance of gender-neutral toys and their role in IoT and in society in general. Every human being’s childhood needs to be a nurturing one, and one way to do this is for parents to assure their sons and daughters that they can follow their interests by encouraging the type of play that they want to engage in. Girls do not need to be boxed in a clearly defined role, and boys do not need to be in one either. Gender-neutral toys are all about giving children unlimited possibilities, an attitude that they will bring with them throughout their adulthood. It is predicted that IoT will blur the lines between genders soon enough, as the industry will likely focus on toys that parents demand.

IoT toys are beneficial to children

IoT toys are not only fun and interactive: they can be educational, too. Parents who want to develop their child’s interest in science, mathematics, engineering and technology can get robots that can be controlled through programming, for example, or they can get them science-based games that enhance their knowledge about biology, chemistry, physics, and the like. IoT toys can also be purchased by parents who want to teach their children about living healthy lifestyles. There are toys that can track fitness, for example, and even ones that gamify toothbrushing. 

To ensure that your children get the most out of their IoT toys, talk to them about the potential risks of toys connected to the internet. Having a conversation with them about their personal information and sensitive data is still the best deterrent. It is also important for parents to keep a close eye on their children when they are interacting with their IoT toys. 

It is every parent’s desire to protect their children, and they can still do this while their children are online. With the right information, knowledge, and a lot of care, parents can stop potential threats from harming their child. And once that is out of the way, they can let their child enjoy their new IoT toys with full peace of mind. 

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Tags: privacy, iot

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