As smartwatches become more popular around the world, governments and other groups are warning that many smartwatches for children are unsafe.
Smartwatches are like tiny computers you wear on your wrist. They usually tell time and count the steps a person takes during the day. Most smartwatches connect with a smart phone, letting the user make calls, and send and receive messages. Often smartwatches have microphones and speakers. Some even have cameras.
Many smartwatches for children also have GPS trackers. These trackers are meant to allow parents to know where their kids are, so they know that their kids are safe.
But now some groups in Europe are warning that many smartwatches made for kids are actually making children less safe.
Some watches allow people other than parents to track where the kids are. They also can allow anyone to send the child a message. Some watches can also be controlled remotely, turning their microphone or camera on and allowing someone to watch and listen to anything the child does. For example, researchers found that it was easy to track and listen in on children wearing the MiSafes Kid’s Watcher Plus smartwatch.
The problem is that the companies who are making the smartwatches are not taking the time and care needed to make sure the watches are safe.
To be safe, any time a phone or a smartwatch communicates – makes a call or sends a message or GPS information – the information should be mixed up so no one else can get the information. This is called encryption. But encrypting is harder than not encrypting, so many companies don’t do the extra work.
In 2017, Germany made it against the law to sell smartwatches for children. The government said smartwatches were spying on children, and that anyone who had a child’s smartwatch should destroy it.
Last week, the European Commission (EC) – the group in charge of suggesting laws for the European Union – said that a smartwatch called the Enox Safe-Kid-One could not be sold. The EC said that the watch allowed anyone to take control of the watch without ever touching it.
If someone wanted to, they could make the phone call any number they wanted; they could collect phone numbers and messages from the phone; they could even make the watch show the child’s parents the wrong GPS locations. The company that makes the watch thinks it’s safe.
Sadly, this isn’t a new situation for devices made for children. As more and more devices for children connect to the internet, there are more chances for people to break into devices that are not made carefully.
For example, most toys that can “talk” with kids actually send off recordings of the child’s voice. These toys are often not safe. Other people can learn what the child is saying and can even make the toy say things that it is not supposed to say. One example is the doll “My Friend Cayla”, which was made against the law in Germany because of the way it spied on children.