Germany bans smartwatches for children over privacy concerns, urges parents to destroy devices
Germany’s telecommunications regulatory, Federal Network Agency (FNA), has banned the sale of smartwatches for children. It has also urged parents to destroy the devices as they can be used to record conversations in secret.
The FNA has classified the smartwatches as “prohibited listening devices.”
This comes after the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) earlier this month put out an announcement saying that there is a privacy risk for children using smartwatches. The consumer body said the devices allow hackers to track the location of children and listen to their conversations.
A report published by the Norwegian Consumer Council last month also pointed out that smartwatches have several serious flaws that could allow hackers easy access to the user’s location- both current and historical logs along with a lot of sensitive information about the users. One brand of smartwatches was even found to be transmitting unencrypted location tags to a server in China, a Gizmodo report said.
The ban by the German authorities, however, was more centred on the audio recording abilities of smartwatches.
“Using an app, parents can use such children’s watches to listen unnoticed to the child’s environment and they are to be regarded as unauthorized transmitting equipment,” said Jochen Homann, President of the FNA.
Apart from listening to children speaking among themselves, Homman pointed out that parents are using their kids’ smartwatches to listen in on what teachers are saying in classrooms. Recording conversations without knowledge and consent of everyone involved in the conversation or listening to conversations in secret is against the law in Germany.
The German authorities have contacted schools and asked teachers to be aware of the type of watches that children are wearing and using, especially ones that have recording features in them.
A lot of these smartwatches for kids are marketed and sold as toys, notes the Gizmodo report, but have advanced GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, microphones, onboard memory and other such techs.
Makers of such “toys” also have basic if not any security standards in place, while also making no promises about keeping the data they collect secure. IoT devices masked as toys are particularly vulnerable to hacking, notes the report.
“In some cases, toys with microphones could record and collect conversations within earshot of the device. Information such as the child’s name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment,” read a statement put out by the FBI as a PSA earlier this year.