Wi-Fi enabled toys targeted by Investigatory Powers Bill

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Smart toys such as Hello Barbie could be used by the government to snoop on suspects

Connected toys could be the next item to come under scrutiny as part of the Investigatory Powers Bill, a technology expert has warned MPs.

Smart toys, such as Hello Barbie and My Friend Cayla, both talking, Wi-Fi enabled dolls, could be used to gain information by intelligence agencies, TechUK’s Anthony Walker told the Commons science and technology committee.

He explained that anything that can be connected to the internet, such as children’s tablets too, could be hacked into and used by the authorities to snoop on criminals and suspects.

“A range of devices that have been in the news recently, in relation to a hack, are children’s toys, that children can interact with,” he said.

“These are devices that may sit in a child’s bedroom but are accessible. In theory, the manufacturer of those products could be the subject of a warrant to enable equipment interference with those devices. So the potential extent, I think, is something that needs to be carefully considered.”

He added that the Home Office needs to clarify exactly what it means when it describes “equipment interference,” and whether spying on such devices means it will be able to use toys as a means on snooping.

The Home Office believes the Investigatory Powers Bill has already “made a vital contribution to counter the increased threat to the UK from Islamist terrorism and have also enabled the disruption of paedophile-related crime,” meaning it’s unlikely it will change its mind on hacking into connected devices in order to spy on people.

It’s not just government bodies that can hack into these connected devices, either. Recently, there have been a number of cases where connected toys have been hacked by criminals, calling for tighter security on such items.

As a response, Barbie’s maker Mattel has already tightened security on Hello Barbie via a software update and it’s thought other companies will shortly have to follow suite, especially after the news that toymaker VTech’s systems were hacked last week.