When buying Christmas gifts in the pre-holiday season, the German Federal Network Agency urges consumers to be cautious with smart toys and connected devices, as they may violate privacy rules. Prior to purchase, consumers should therefore understand how exactly the connected device is functioning and carefully read product descriptions and data protection provisions of related apps.
Consumers should be careful with the following product categories:
Smart toys: Toys that can send and receive radio signals and can overhear or secretly observe conversations of children or other people are prohibited in Germany – this may include robots that can be controlled via an app, talking dolls or connected cuddly toys. However, toys that can speak or answer questions without an internet connection or data transmission to the manufacturer are allowed.
Smartwatches: As soon as a smartwatch has an eavesdropping or concealed image recording function in addition to its regular telephone function, so-called "voice monitoring", "baby monitor function" or "one-way conversation", it is banned in Germany.
GPS/GSM tracker: Trackers with an interception function that can be remotely activated via an app or short messages are illegal in Germany – because this interception function can basically be activated by anyone who knows the phone number linked to the SIM card of the tracking device.
Machines for treats: Such machines for pets may be banned if they can secretly transmit images or audio files via WiFi or Bluetooth to the owner's smartphone using a camera and/or microphone.
Overall, this rule of thumb applies: As soon as an integrated microphone or camera can be secretly accessed remotely, the device is banned in Germany. Consumers should therefore pay particular attention to whether an object has a radio-capable camera/microphone or whether it can transmit image or audio files wirelessly to the manufacturer, since in that case the person recorded must have full control over it.
Jochen Homann, President of the Federal Network Agency, commented: "Smart toys often look harmless. However, as soon as they can record sound or images unnoticed and forward this data, they are prohibited. It is worthwhile to critically examine Smart Toys on the wish list and to read the product description carefully."
Source: Federal Network Agency