Some devices parents use to keep track of kids can actually put children in harm’s way

Ben Spradling is the Western Washington Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.
Ben Spradling is the Western Washington Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. Courtesy photo

Raising kids in an age when everything is increasingly connected can be tricky.

One incredible advantage for families is the broad range of online devices that make active schedules easier to manage. For example, GPS-connected smart watches. They offer peace of mind to parents who want to keep track of their kids to make sure they’re safe. Unfortunately, some of those same gadgets provide a cyber opening for unwanted strangers.

The Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific warns that these devices could actually result in a greater opportunity for children to find themselves in harm’s way. Parents purchasing smart watches are attracted to features such as notifications when their kids leave a designated area and cameras that show their surroundings. But predators can infiltrate these devices and use those same capabilities to find and interact with kids without their parents’ knowledge.

By creating new accounts and syncing them with a user’s smart watch, hackers can gain access to all the sensitive data available on that device. Personal information targeted by hackers includes the user’s current location, location history and the phone numbers of contacts.

Once a hacker has made their way onto the smart watch, they have free rein to send misleading location information to parents who monitor the device, listen in on conversations or communicate with kids directly and even use the smart watch’s camera function to take the child’s picture.

As internet- and GPS-connected devices become more common, it is increasingly important to minimize the risk of having a child’s privacy compromised. The BBBNW+P recommends the following tips to protect kids:

  • Make sure a privacy policy is in place. Children’s privacy laws require that all GPS-connected gadgets, apps or other online devices marketed to kids are accompanied by a privacy policy. The privacy policy needs to clearly state the kinds of data being collected and explain how that information will be used. If you can’t find a privacy policy, you may want to find another device.

  • Give your approval before giving away your information. Products marketed to kids, including smart watches, must ask for and receive parental approval before collecting data from their young users. Parents who suspect that their kids’ information has been taken without their consent should reach out to the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Keep your gadgets as current as you can. Knowing when smart watches or other online devices have been compromised is not easy. Downloading the most updated software or apps associated with those devices can help you fix bugs and halt privacy issues you or your kids may not even know are taking place.

The BBBNW+P offers many cybersecurity tips and information to help consumers and businesses rethink the way they interact with internet-connected devices. Articles and a cybersecurity toolkit for small businesses can be found at www.BBB.org/BBBSecure.

Ben Spradling is the Western Washington Marketplace Manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. Reach him at ben.spradling@thebbb.org.