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Kids’ smart toys can learn too much about their users

Is nothing sacred?

Now, it’s toys we need to be worried about when it comes to cybersecurity, the FBI says.

Specifically, the agency is warning of smart toys and other types of “entertainment devices” for children that “are increasingly incorporating technologies that learn and tailor their behaviors based on user interactions.”

These types of toys may have sensors, microphones, cameras, data storage components and other multimedia capabilities, including speech recognition and GPS options, the FBI said in an alert.

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“These features could put the privacy and safety of children at risk due to the large amount of personal information that may be unwittingly disclosed,” the alert said.

The FBI did not name any toys in particular but warned that those with microphones are capable of recording conversations within earshot and collecting such information as the child’s name, school, likes and dislikes and other details.

Also, when customers set up user accounts in conjunction with the toy, they typically provide personal information such as name, date of birth, pictures and address, the FBI said.

“The collection of a child’s personal information combined with a toy’s ability to connect to the Internet or other devices raises concerns for privacy and physical safety,” the FBI said.

Consumers, the agency says, must do some homework before buying such toys.

It starts with examining toy company user agreement disclosures and privacy practices. Find out where your family’s personal data is sent and stored and whether it will be sent to third-party services.

“Security safeguards for these toys can be overlooked in the rush to market them and to make them easy to use,” the FBI says.

Research a toy and the company online to search for any problems identified by security researchers or in consumer reports, the agency says.

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Here’s another way to protect Social Security information.

It’s called “my Social Security,” and it’s a personalized account that serves as a gateway to online Social Security services. You don’t have to be collecting benefits to do this. Go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.

The Social Security Administration is advising people to take this step following the Equifax breach. The agency says doing so removes the risk of an imposter opening an account in your name – even if the scammer has your Social Security number.

Account-holders can get information like estimates of benefits, estimates of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid and a look at earnings once a year to verify that the amounts posted are correct.

To open a my Social Security account, you create a user name and password and provide some personal information. You also have to provide answers to some questions that only you are likely to know. To increase the security level, the agency added a second identification process that involves a special password sent by text or email. Users must go through this additional process every time they sign in.

To open an account you must have a valid email address, a Social Security number and a U.S. mailing address. You must be at least 18.

There are some cases in which you won’t be able to create an online account, such as a recent move or a name change. In that case, you can still create one by going to a local Social Security office.

If you are already a victim of identity theft and you don’t want to do business with Social Security online, you might be eligible to block electronic access by going to https://secure.ssa.gov/acu/IPS_INTR/blockaccess.

Doing this prevents anyone, including yourself, from seeing or changing personal information online or through an automated phone service. (You can change your mind and restore access later by contacting Social Security directly.)

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.


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