Are China's Smart Toys Monitoring Your Children?

Toys are no longer considered toys. Those adorable dolls now have concealed cameras.

According to Hexa Research, the worldwide smart-toys market is estimated to reach $24.65 billion by 2025. Smart toys, according to the researchers, play an important role in "developing the mental, physical, and intellectual skills of children," and "function as interactive toys that involve users, particularly youngsters, in some course of action and push them to think, feel, and react properly."

Some intelligent toys are beneficial to youngsters. It's vital to note, though, that these "toys," which automatically connect to the internet, collect an excessive amount of data on their users. Many of them include cameras and microphones, allowing them to communicate with young children and affect their minds. Worse, China, which is infamous for widespread monitoring and data abuse, produces 80% of the world's toys and is leading the smart-toy revolution. One thing is certain: allowing a Chinese-made smart toy into your house is anything but "smart."

Artificial intelligence (AI) is used in smart toys, and one type of AI is termed "machine learning." Machine learning allows computers, such as smart toys, to automatically "learn" from previous data and use that knowledge to become "smarter." The more information the "toy" gathers, the better it learns about a youngster. But it's not the toy that's learning about the youngster; it's outside forces that want to mine our thoughts for sensitive data.

At CNBC's Evolve Global Summit last year, Will.i.am, the singer and chair of the World Economic Forum's Smart Toy Awards judging committee, said, "As an AI toy starts to learn the child, this means the toy in the next 15 years will be smarter than the parent and gather all this data that could one day hurt the child."

That’s right—”hurt the child.” How so?

Data, on the other hand, is a hugely exploitable resource. You can control the masses more effectively if you have a lot of it. Data is to the twenty-first century what oil was to the previous one. "Those who understand Data's basic worth and how to extract and apply it will reap big benefits," Wired magazine's authors said. Modern data—or, as Wired puts it, capital-D data—involves knowing every single aspect about a person, from their favorite color and music to their feelings about family, school, neighborhood, and even their nation. Children can be targeted with extremely specific messages from unscrupulous parties using this data.

People, welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where metadata weaponization is a given. "Massive volumes of sensitive information about US people are being gathered, developed, shared, purchased and sold, and in some cases utilized as a weapon by the country's adversaries," as a panel of experts at the AFCEA TechNet Cyber conference in 2020 warned—one of which, of course, is China. In reality, China looks to be the world's most powerful data broker.

Smart toys, like Alexa and Siri, may be a force for good. They have the potential to be Trojan horses. Genesis Toys, a well-known toy business, produced a doll named My Friend Cayla that was apparently supposed to assist children by listening to and responding to their questions until 2017. My Friend Cayla, on the other hand, was no friend at all: instead of assisting youngsters, the doll secretly recorded all conversations, including those involving children, parents, and siblings, and shared the information with other parties. The German authorities reacted fast, outlawing the toy and branding it as a snooping device. Parents who had bought the doll were told they had to throw it away. The 2017 doll tragedy must never be forgotten.

Stephanie Wissink, a senior research analyst and privacy specialist, told CNBC that "there are significant ramifications around kid protection legislation." When a firm (or a government) begins "building a technological profile of a youngster," the company (or country) is "stepping a privacy line." Which leads us back to China, a country where ethical boundaries are constantly crossed and technology profiling is commonplace. The Chinese Communist Party increased its grip on technology businesses last summer, forcing major giants such as ByteDance, Tencent, and Alibaba to disclose all of their data with Beijing. What's more, guess what? These three businesses are at the forefront of smart-toy development.

Toys are no longer considered toys. Many of those adorable dolls now have concealed cameras in them. They are simply espionage gadgets that appear to be harmless. Don't be deceived. Even Barbie is a horrible actress nowadays.

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