As The Use Of Smart Technology Increases, So Do Concerns For Parents

Most parents are careful to restrict television programming or sites online that contain inappropriate content for their little ones.  And with the rise of smart products, our families are able to connect to the outside world like never before.

As technology advances, many companies are offering consumers more and more interactive devices.  These devices are taking over our homes and becoming a potential problem for the safety of our children.

And while many families enjoy the convenience of products that help make their busy lives a little easier, parents must be aware of the dangers to our children, as smart products and many toys targeting the youngest of children are introduced.

NPR reported:

Earlier this month, the toy-giant Mattel announced it had pulled the plug on plans to sell an interactive gadget for children.The device, called Aristotle, looked similar to a baby monitor with a camera. Critics called it creepy.

Powered by artificial intelligence, Aristotle could get to know your child — at least that was how the device was being pitched.”Aristotle is designed to comfort, entertain, teach and assist,” according to a company release issued in January.

It was designed to “displace essential parenting functions, like soothing a crying baby or reading a bedtime story,” says Josh Golin, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “So that the children would form an attachment to it.”

But Aristotle went further than that. It wasn’t going to just give the child information. It would have been able to collect information from the child in the bedroom — and then upload it to the cloud.

Parents and pediatricians alike raised concerns about this new “toy,” and others like it that are being released into the marketplace at an alarming rate.  If smart toys can interact with your child, who will have access to their personal information, and what kind of emotional effect will these products have on our kids?

In the case of this Mattel toy, the company responded by signed petitions from parents who understood the issues it raised.  But many other similar products are becoming available to families, especially during the holiday season.

Busy parents are always on the lookout for products that will occupy their children’s time and teach them in the process.  Products like Amazon Echo and its AI system, Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft’s Cortana are relied upon by families to help keep them organized and assist in running the household.

Our children are growing up in an age where they can talk to these devices and receive an answer back.  Not only are there grave privacy concerns, but children don’t have the emotional maturity to understand that they are not building true relationships with these interactive devices.

NPR reported:

Like Aristotle, these devices use artificial intelligence to try to engage family members in conversations. “Kids are so curious, and they can learn a lot of facts and information from the devices, without parents having to bring out their phones or computers.”

But some of the concerns with Aristotle apply to Alexa and Google Home.

In terms of privacy, both Alexa and Google Home are always “listening” to conversations. Once they hear a trigger word — such as “Ok Google” or “Alexa” — the device starts recording the conversation you’re having with it. Then it uploads the conversation to the cloud so it can learn better how to understand you and help you.

But what about these devices interacting with our kids?  There is no stopping the advancements in technology.  Artificial intelligence has been in development for years, and it won’t be long before robotic assistants enter our homes.

So how can parents protect their children’s privacy and teach their kids appropriate social norms if they are continually interacting with smart devices?

NPR continued:

“Young kids likely view these devices very differently than adults do,” Severson says.They may attribute human characteristics to the device, thinking that Alexa has feelings and emotions. Some kids may even think there’s an actual woman inside the device.

Given this intimate relationship with the device, Severson says, parents need to be careful how they interact with Alexa and Google Home.

“Children are developing their conceptions of what is appropriate social interaction,” Severson says. “So parents need to recognize that your kids — particularly young children — are really paying attention to you as the parent for cues on how to interact with the device and how to interact with others.”

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Parents should always monitor their children’s interaction with these devices.  Proper modeling is key to showing your child these are not real people.  Time on these devices should be limited, just as with a smartphone or tablet.  And parents must remind children not to give personal information about themselves in any “conversation” they hold with these interactive devices.

These concerns for our children’s emotional and physical safety extend to their playthings.  Thousands of new interactive toys are being offered to consumers every day, especially during the holiday season.

The New Statesman reported on such toys raising concerns about the amount of children’s “play” data being analyzed and saved by these companies:

EU and US consumer watchdogs are filing complaints about a number of WiFi and Bluetooth connected interactive toys, also known as smart toys, which have hit the shelves. Equipped with microphones and an internet connection, many have the power to invade both children’s and adults’ private lives.

Everything [children] say is processed by the internet-connected toy. The audio files are turned into statistical data and transcripts, which are then anonymised and encrypted. “Play Data” are things like a child’s favorite color or sport, which are used to make a profile of the child.

Many companies developing these “smart” toys and interactive home devices admit they store family data, and will also hand over your data to government or law enforcement if requested.

With cameras, microphones, and sensors, these devices provide a frightening glimpse into the future, putting our children’s safety and security at risk.

What do you think of these smart products and the dangers they pose to our children?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.