Advocacy groups urge COPPA, FTC Act review of kids’ safety accessory 

Security

The smartwatch, a wearable piece of technology that functions as a phone, a GPS tracker and an emergency alert system, promises to make a big impact on how parents interact with their kids. By tapping into Internet connectivity, smartwatches allow parents to easily and quickly contact their child, allow children to send an SOS message to their parents, and allow parents to track and find their kids.

But according to advocacy groups, the smartwatches actually pose a grave threat to their users.

Alarmed

Seven advocacy groups – including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Consumer Federation of America – are raising an alarm about the devices. The groups claim that some popular smartwatch models are hackable, while others sport features, such as an “SOS button,” that are essentially unreliable. They recently sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) summarizing these concerns.

The groups are basing their claims on a Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) study on four models: Caref/Gator, TickTalk/Xplora, SETracker/Wonlex and Tinitell. After examining the products, the NCC claimed to have found serious flaws. The allegedly hackable models purportedly allowed anyone with access to the hacked phone to know where a child is, precisely when the child is separated from their parents and most vulnerable. Some functions, like the crucial SOS button, were said to be unreliable.

Moreover, the study concluded that the smartwatch sector fell short on crucial data protections for their young users. One of the smartwatch makers is reported to have used data gathered by the phone for their marketing campaigns, and another failed to encrypt the sensitive GPS locations of the young wearers. All but one of the companies are alleged to have not secured consent before saving user data. Hacked by the wrong individual, the groups maintain, smartwatches may devolve into a dangerous weapon.

The takeaway

The groups requested that the Commission launch further investigation into the smartwatch niche, particularly on possible violations of the FTC Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) – the federal children’s privacy law.

What’s more, they threw down the gauntlet and called out the FTC on its past performance. “We recognize that the FTC has done much to extend privacy protections for children and is also aware of the risks of Internet-connected devices,” the letter states. “But…the FTC has failed to take enforcement action in similar cases concerning the safety of children on matters that other consumer agencies have pursued effectively.”