Mobile devices and children: It’s not “smart” to “connect” your child — dangers range from hacking to bullying

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 by

Recent studies warn that children who own smart watches which their parents can use to keep track of their movements are more prone to the dangers of hacking, according to reports by The Daily Mail.  To reach this conclusion, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) authorized security experts at the company, Mnemonic, to inspect three watches that are sold in the U.K., namely the Gator, Xplora, and SeTracker watches.

“Though these products are marketed at making children safer, parents will be shocked if they actually put them at risk because of shoddy security,” said Alex Neill, managing director of home products and services at Which?, the consumer group that endorsed the study.

The experts revealed that these watches can be accessed remotely by strangers to spy on young children. The devices’ security loopholes include GPS tracking and a mobile phone SIM card. As a consequence, hackers can identify the location of a child wearing the smart watch and see information on all of their previous movements. Some devices can even tune in to what a child is doing by sending a hidden text to the watch, according to the experts. Moreover, hackers can interrupt and alter the geographical location of the watch, which means that the hacker can fake or “spoof” the location of a child. (Related: Hackers begin targeting your home appliances: toilets, ovens, refrigerators and more.)

Additionally, those watches with an emergency button which a child can push to call their parents in an emergency also had loopholes. The emergency button can be remotely deactivated or even reprogrammed to call other people.

The experts also discovered that there is a possibility of acquiring information on the movements of children who use smart watches through the stored data on the watches’ user apps and linked websites.

The NCC submitted their findings to European data regulators, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office in the U.K., which in turn contacted the companies involved.

“If [safety and security] can’t be guaranteed, then the products should not be sold,” Neill expressed.

“I take cyber security very seriously. I have learned that issues will come up along the way and we fix them,” said Colleen Wong, developer of Gator watch and founder of Techsixtyfour. “I reported this back to the manufacturer and we are launching a completely new app which will eliminate all the issues that have been found.”

Smart devices can also lead to children being bullied

Apparently, smartphones also pose danger to children. A new study found that children who own smartphones are at a higher risk of bullying, according to another report by The Daily Mail.

For the study, researchers at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts conducted a survey on around 4,500 children from third grade to fifth grade between 2014 and 2016. They found that 9.5 percent of children said they had experienced being cyberbullied. Results showed that smartphone owners were at a higher risk of being bullied. Those who were in grades three and four and owned a smartphone were more likely to reveal being a victim of cyberbulling. Meanwhile, more smartphone owners confessed they have been a cyberbully themselves.

Researchers concluded that constant access to social media and texting exposes children to interactions both positive and negative with others. Moreover, it raises the possibility of a child sending a hasty unnecessary response to a schoolmate’s posts and messages.

“At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communication in the social sphere,” psychology professor Elizabeth Englander suggested.

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