Tips for buying smart toys


There are countless varieties of internet-connected toys on the market, but do caregivers always know what kind of personal information these toys collect?

According to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), toys exist that collect personal information, like names or email addresses, from children. Much like many offline experiences where parent’s permission is required before collecting or using your child’s information, the online world is the same: parental permission is required.

These connected toys aren’t inherently bad; in fact, they can be highly educational and fun as long as caregivers are well-informed and choose wisely. But if you choose the wrong toy, there can be consequences (check out our issues we had with a smart toy here).

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota urges responsible parents and caregivers to check out the connected toys and games they buy for their children. You may be surprised to find that, with some toys, privacy is not included. Don’t let your children’s smart toys outsmart you; do your homework before bringing a smart toy home.

Here are CARU’s tips to help your family when buying smart toys:

Do Your Research

When considering an internet-connected device, research the product before you hit the stores. Most information you need cannot be found on the box. Instead, do an internet search of the product and read online reviews. Check the company's business profile on

Know the Law

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is designed to protect children’s personal information. Toy companies must post privacy policies that describe how personal information is collected from children and how it is handled. The policy should not only describe the toy’s data collection practices but also the practices of other companies they are working with who may also be receiving personal information through the device as well.

Read the Privacy Policy

You should be able to find the privacy policy online, either in the app store or on the toy’s website. Look for the following:

  • A list of who is collecting personal information
  • What information the device collects and how it’s used
  • How personal information is stored
  • Who has access to data
  • Your parental rights

Parental Rights

  • Privacy policies must give parents the chance to review their child’s information, delete it and give them a chance to refuse to allow further collection. Parents also have the right to agree to collection and use of their child’s information, but still not allow disclosure to third parties. Companies also must, if asked, give parents a way to review personal information collected from their child, give a way to revoke consent and refuse further use or collection and delete their child’s information if asked.
  • If a toy collects personal information, COPPA requires that parents are given notice before their children’s information is collected. Operators are also required to get verifiable parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from a child.

Use a Secure Connection

Only connect toys over secure, password-protected Wi-Fi or VPN (Virtual Private Network). Avoid using public connections, which may easily allow unwanted access to toys.

Check Please

Don’t assume privacy settings are set by default; check the parental controls and don’t forget to password-protect your settings. Be aware of parental controls and safety measures the toy has in place like limiting who your child can communicate with.

Stay Up to Date

Find out if the company will contact you if there are any security breaches or software updates to protect a toy’s security. Always install software updates and security patches in a timely manner.


Have your children use their toys in family areas of the home so you can closely monitor usage. Review any video or audio that is recorded by any device. Don’t be outwitted by your child. Kids are brilliant when it comes to technology, but it can be dangerous for them. Remain engaged; be aware of who they are communicating with and what content is being shared.

Take Back the Internet

If you’re not sure how to do something, there is probably another parent who does—and they may have even made a YouTube video about it! You can learn anything from “How to Turn off iPhone Purchases” to “How to Set Parental Controls.”  Answers to almost all of your questions can be found on the Internet…as well as things you didn’t think to ask!

Pull the Plug

  • Unplugging is important too. Teach your kids that the addictive buzzing and pinging doesn’t take the place of family time.
  • If you’re worried about kids’ online interactions, use programs and devices built-in features to turn off Internet connectivity, disable digital purchases and restrict interactions to pre-approved friend lists.