The intersection of the Internet of Things and children's toys merited a letter from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) to Federal Trade Commission Chair Edith Ramirez, in which he expressed concern about so-called "smart toys" and mobile apps.
"With the increasing prevalence of connectivity and data processing abilities in children's toys and other household products, consumers must now evaluate and weigh new—and complex—risks to their children's safety and privacy," Sen. Warner wrote.
He cited instances such as dolls that record conversations and store the data in the cloud where it can be accessed by hackers. He also noted, as co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, a data breach that occurred last year where the personal information of an estimated 6.4 million children who played with a VTech smartphone toy was exposed.
When Congress enacted the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in 1998, legislators "never envisioned" that the legislation would need to be applied to interconnected devices such as baby monitors and stuffed animals, Sen. Warner noted.
"The ever-declining cost of digital storage and Internet connectivity have made it possible to connect an unimaginable range of products and services." "As the Internet of Things expands to include millions of additional devices each day, more and more Internet-connected devices are making their way into children's hands. This steady increase makes our efforts to protect children's data even more imperative."
Although the FTC is "already leading the way" on IoT issues, Sen. Warner urged the agency to work with members of Congress to "identify ways that we can better protect our children as technology changes the way they access and use the Internet." To that end, he posed several questions for the Commission.
Does current law provide the FTC with sufficient regulatory authority to protect children in the age of the IoT? And has the agency changed its position that IoT-specific legislation would be premature?
Sen. Warner also asked how the FTC determines if a device, website, or app is directed to children, whether current mechanisms for parental consent are clear and sufficient—particularly in the context of online purchasing—and whether parents have an effective means by which to revoke consent.
To read Sen. Warner's letter to the FTC, click here.
Why it matters: Children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to identity theft and other privacy violations as the number of IoT toys and apps proliferates. While the lawmaker acknowledged that technological innovation can benefit consumers, he encouraged the agency to strengthen its efforts to protect children's personal information.