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Germany, Norway issue warnings on children's smartwatches

Kids smartwatches that do more than tell time

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Adults trying to hinder kids' use of technology isn't a new concept. From banning laptops for note taking to confiscating phones before class, it's not uncommon to see adults seem paranoid about new types of tech, especially connected devices. But sometimes — it's warranted.

Recently, Germany's Federal Network Agency (FNA) called foul on smartwatches that worked as listening devices — specifically those worn by children between the ages of 5 and 12, and used by parents, in particular, to eavesdrop on their kids while at school. The German regulating body said that parents would listen in on classes and teachers without consent.

The FNA says use of devices, like this, are not allowed in Germany — specifically objects that act as telecommunications devices, but mimic the shape of something else. A smartwatch that works as a transmitter would fall, presumably, in this category.

These special watches, work like a baby monitor — allowing someone to tap into the device and listen in to anything happening around it. And people are being asked now to not only keep an eye out for these particular smartwatches — but destroy them, and then send proof back to the FNA.

Germany's not alone in worrying about children's smartwatches. The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) had the same type of reaction a full month before the FNA, issuing a report about security concerns around the devices. The NCC noted that smartwatches — besides acting as listening devices — can also transmit the location of a child — presumably to parents — but have security flaws which could open that information up easily to others.

A child's toy can be hacked — just like this brand of teddy bears earlier this year. Parents would record messages for their children and the bear would play them back. That is, until hackers held those messages for ransom.

Connected devices are always at risk of compromise — only secure enough as their strongest link to the internet. That's why, the NCC in its report suggested parents use some caution before kitting out their littlest ones with any smart gadget.

"As products that are marketed toward parents in order to ease their worries, it is cause for concern that functions such as geofencing and SOS buttons are unreliable or simply do not work," they wrote in their report. "Any consumer looking for ways to keep their children safe and secure might want to think twice before purchasing a smartwatch as long as the faults outlined in these reports have not been fixed."


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