Some of Santa's gifts may invade your privacy


Apple Watches, Fitbits, iRobot vacuums all get reviewed

Since there are so many connected products on the market today, consumers have a difficult time distinguishing those that take care of their personal data from those that don't.

And, if you’re a parent and not as careful as you should be, tech gifts could be roasting on an open fire of your child’s privacy this year. 

The new Mozilla *Privacy Not Included holiday buyers’ guide shows that there’s a sleighful of children’s connected toys and apps that collect and repurpose hoards of data, and compared to adult-connected tech, many of the kids’ tech products are actually worse in the data leakage department. 

Mozilla researchers pointed to Embodied Inc’s Black Mirror-esque AI Moxie Robot as a prime example. They found that the toy records and shares its “conversations” with kids with Google and ChatGPT-maker OpenAI. But, in their opinion, Embodied Inc’s – and others’ – privacy policies are also getting more opaque and dishonest. 

“Embodied Inc’s privacy policy tells parents to teach their kids not to share personal information with their Moxie learning robot — yet the product’s marketing simultaneously encourages kids to hone skills like emotional regulation and self-confidence,” Mozilla said. 

“Other companies also often market smartwatches to parents of children too young for first phones. Researchers found many privacy concerns here, including one, the Angel Watch for Kids, that doesn't even seem to have a privacy policy that covers the smartwatch or app at all.”

But, what chapped the researchers even more was that many companies they previously rated positively — including Bose, Eufy, and Sonos — seemed to fall shot in the privacy department and earned new privacy warning labels this year.

Plus, companies like Amazon, Samsung, Wyze and Microsoft Xbox which had already earned warning labels, got even worse on data collection, use, sharing and security. 

“Wyze had serious security vulnerabilities that it was slow to respond to over the past couple of years, and Bose now says it can possibly sell data on users’ head movements while using headphones,” the researchers noted, adding that federal charges and fines against Amazon and Microsoft have confirmed their suspicions about those products’ privacy infringements, particularly when it comes to children’s uses. 

Who made the list – both naughty and nice?

The 2023 holiday edition of *Privacy Not Included reviews over 150 popular tech products across six categories, including Smart Home, Toys & Games and Wearables.

The list of reviews is quite a lineup, too: Microsoft Xbox, Sonos, Garmin Fitness Trackers, Apple Watches, Fitbit, Peloton Bikes, Amazon Ring, iRobot vacuums, Tile Trackers, Bose headphones, and the Tamagotchi Uni.

Mozilla researchers said they invested an average of eight hours researching every product in their guide, going as far as scouring companies’ track records, pouring over privacy policies and regulatory filings, and contacting each company looking for answers as to why some of what they found was going on.

The researchers said that there are some trustworthy products – some. And also acknowledged that some good products got even better.

An example the researchers shared was Garmin, the maker of GPS navigators and smartwatches. After *Privacy Not Included alerted the company last year that it had not made certain that all users had the equal right to delete their personal/private data, Garmin amended its privacy policy to explicitly state that all users have the same data deletion rights.

Researchers were also pleased with the virtual pet Tamagotchi Uni, which earned a big thumbs-up for not collecting much personal information at all — as good as good can get when it comes to ensuring privacy. 

Says Jen Caltrider, lead researcher for *Privacy Not Included: “The privacy and security of our favorite apps and gadgets has gotten worse across the board, but especially among children’s products. The companies that are good at privacy do it by not collecting any data in the first place. Alexa, did you catch that?

“All in all, if you're looking to give gifts that protect and respect the privacy of your loved ones this holiday season, maybe stick to good old-fashioned books.” 

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