Questions to ask before buying a smart toy

A little homework before you connect can ensure a safer, more secure toy.

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Personal robots, voice-activated toys, teddy bears with Bluetooth connections, watches with GPS trackers—today’s smart toys allow your child to interact with the world around them. Some have great educational potential and are designed to spark an interest in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Some can even teach your kids how to code. If you are considering one for your child, however, there are a couple key things to know before you purchase and connect.

By definition, a smart toy is a device with a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other connection that stores data. For example, a baby monitor connects to your home Wi-Fi so you can check on your child from your smartphone. That Wi-Fi connection may carry some personal information, such as your home and email address, so it is important to know  how to work the built-in privacy protections associated with the monitor.

Since the launch of smart toys, the Federal Trade Commission has updated its list of requirements for toymakers to improve security and privacy guidelines. In addition, one of the best things you can do before buying your child a smart toy or device is conduct some basic research online about the product. 

First, visit the device’s website. Find out exactly what the device or toy will allow your child to do. If the site has demo videos, watch them. Read the terms of use and privacy policy. These documents will explain to you exactly what is being done with data collected during use of the devices, how to set privacy settings and the appropriate age for use. Check out what other parents are saying by reading product reviews and make sure to check the reviews on multiple pages (i.e.,,, etc.). 

Next, learn how to set the parental controls. Confirm whether the smart toy has parental controls and then learn how to set them. Not surprisingly, there are a ton of “how to” videos on YouTube that give detailed descriptions on how to manage privacy settings.

You can also talk to a sales associate. If you are making the purchase at a store, ask someone in the tech department about the smart toy and whether they’re familiar with its usage. If you still have questions, ask to speak to a manager or for any material they may have on the item. 

Finally, ask questions. Before purchasing a connected toy for your child, you should know all about the item in question and feel confident in the quality of your answers. Use the list of questions below as a guide when shopping for a smart toy: 

  • Does the toy connect to the Internet?
  • What are the privacy settings for the device?
  • Where does the data go? Who can view it?
  • Can I have access to the data?
  • How long is the data saved for? Where is it saved?
  • What age is this toy/device intended for?
  • Does it use Wi-Fi?
  • Does it have password-protected settings?
  • Can my child talk to strangers with this device?

Smart toys and devices have the potential to help your child prepare for the digital world. Before you connect, however, be sure they’re properly configured and secure. While it can be a little work upfront, it’s also a good teachable moment for children about the importance of their personal data and connectivity.

This article was authored by staff at the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents to confidently navigate the digital world with their kids. It was originally posted on their Good Digital Parenting blog and republished here with permission.

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