Does Your Child's Smart Watch Pose a Risk?

Wearable technology is still new and has some big holes in its security.

Wearable technology is still finding its feet, with the notable exception of smart watches. Wrist-worn tech has fared best in this category, largely thanks to brands like Apple and Fitbit.

And for parents, there are many logical reasons to buy a smart watch for their kids. Aside from the potential health benefits of monitoring and encouraging physical activity, there’s also the chance to track your child’s location in case they get lost.

There’s just one problem. Many of the companies that make kids’ technology are years behind when it comes to security. If you thought that baby monitor hacks were scary, just wait until you learn about the huge security problems with childrens’ smart watches.

Tracking Your Kids is a Double-Edged Sword

Being able to see your child’s location on a map at any time is a great way to allow them to play out and enjoy their summer holidays relatively freely.

But for the location-based tracking of their watch to be safe, you have to assume that you’re the only person that can see it.

The Norwegian Consumer Council looked at four smartwatches aimed at children and found:

  • Three of the four apps that link to the watches had security flaws that could allow a hacker to see the child’s location, and potentially contact them

  • Some kids’ watches could theoretically be used to listen in to the child’s activity without them knowing

  • Data from smart watches aimed at children was sometimes sent from their location to remote servers on the other side of the world

  • Often, data transmissions from kids’ watches are unencrypted.

For parents, these four key flaws make the smart watch a real risk. Just as a hacker could speak to a baby through a poorly secured baby monitor, a malicious user could also mess around with a smart watch app connected to a child’s wearable, and they could do this without the parents suspecting a thing.

Internet-Connected Toys Have Risks

If a toy or gadget for kids connects to the internet, alarm bells should immediately ring. Often, the security in these toys and watches is weak, or non-existent.

You might remember a similar media outrage over the My Friend Cayla doll, which had no security at all, and offered a completely open Bluetooth connection that could be used to speak to children.

The Gator 2 smart watch was found to have a similar problem. Due to its complete lack of security, any determined person could figure out its location and the details of the authorised contact for the device (typically a parent or carer).

To track a different watch, the researcher, Roy Solberg, simply had to increase the ID by one number.

Kids naturally want to copy their parents, and smart watches do have benefits. There’s some useful advice in this FBI briefing if you’re shopping around. However, if your child’s watch doesn’t really need to connect to the internet, but they enjoy the games and fitness tracking, you may be better off getting them a watch without GPS tracking -- or even just a pedometer.

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