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What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Over the past few years our homes have become even more connected. More families are buying internet-enabled devices such as smart speakers, toys that connect to the internet and even Bluetooth enabled toothbrushes. Within this article, we explain what is meant by the ‘Internet of Things’ and how to use these devices safely with your child.

Parents text content

Whether it’s playing with the latest robotic toy or talking to a smart speaker, more children are engaging with devices that connect to the internet than ever before. This has steadily been increasing over the past few years, with some industry experts predicting that there will be over 26 billion connected devices in our homes worldwide by 2020. Connected devices and toys are present in most households, and redefine how many of us go about our daily lives and how children interact and play. As these devices are more widely used by families and children, it’s important for parents and carers to find the balance between providing ways for their children to learn and have fun and minimise the risks associated with the Internet of Things.


What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things, often referred to as IoT, describes everyday objects that connect to the internet. These connected devices can be activated by using voice commands, or controlled remotely by downloading and using an app or via a Bluetooth connection. Examples of the Internet of Things  include: smart speakers, smart meters (for home electricity and heating) and wearables such as fitness trackers.


What is the Internet of Toys?

The Internet of Toys describes toys that connect to the internet. Similar to the Internet of Things, these toys can be controlled using a smartphone app, voice commands or using a Bluetooth connection. Connected toys are different from other toys because they collect, use, and share data via the internet. Examples of the Internet of Toys include: connected action figures and dolls, robotic toys such as drones and learning development toys that aim to teach children a new skill or impart knowledge.


What are the risks associated with connected devices and toys?

Although connected devices and toys are providing children with more opportunities for learning and interactive play, there are risks associated with the Internet of Things. For example:

  • Concerns have been raised about whether these devices are collecting too much personal information from children, as well as how that information may be used or shared.
  • Some children (either accidentally or on purpose) are able to search for and access age-inappropriate content online via a connected device such as a smart speaker.
  • Children may make ‘in-app purchases’ and spend money, which is often taken from their parents’ or carers’ bank account without their knowledge or consent.
  • Some of these devices may be more vulnerable to hacking and monitoring, as there are currently no security standards in place for connected devices.

Luckily, there are things you can do to minimise these risks.

How can I make my connected home more safe and secure?

There are a number of things you can do to help make your connected home more safe and secure for your child:

1. Do your research: Before buying a connected device, research different products online as well as reading reviews. This is a great way to find out more about a product including age restrictions and credibility, as well as hearing directly from other parents about family friendly connected devices and toys.

2. Read the manual: Once you have purchased a new connected device for your home or for your child, read the manual provided by the manufacturers. Information should be given about the privacy of the device, how it connects to the internet and information about any app which may need to be downloaded in order to use the device.

3. Set up parental controls and use safe search: Make use of the parental controls available on your home broadband and any internet enabled device  in  your home. You can find out more about how to use parental controls by visiting your broadband provider’s website, or by reading  our Thinkuknow article about parental controls. Enable the ‘SafeSearch’ function on your connected device and web search engines, which will allow you to limit the content your child is exposed to whilst online. It is important to understand that no parental control or ‘SafeSearch’ function is 100% effective, and this cannot be used by itself to protect your child from accessing  age-inappropriate content or platforms.

4. Change the default password: When you buy a connected device or toy, make sure you change the default password. Use a strong and unique password that cannot easily be guessed and do not share this with others.

5. Set your Bluetooth to ‘undiscoverable’: Many connected devices are also Bluetooth enabled, which means they are able to connect to nearby devices without having to connect to the internet. If the device has Bluetooth, set this to ‘undiscoverable’ so that your child does not unintentionally share data or pair with an unknown device.

6. Review and/or delete audio files: Some connected devices or toys function by listening to your child’s voice commands; and so these devices usually record and keep these audio files to function properly. Refer to the manual and find out how to review and/or delete audio files. If there’s a microphone on your child’s connected device, you can turn the ‘mute’ button on which stops the device from recording and storing audio files. 

7. Talk to your child: Include connected devices in your online safety conversations, opening  a dialogue about your child’s internet use as well reinforcing messages that if your child sees or hears anything while using a connected device that makes them feel worried or sad,  they can speak to you or another adult they trust. We have further information on starting the conversation about online safety here.

8. Supervise your child when they are online or using a connected device: If your child is primary school aged, supervise them when they are online or using a connected device. You should keep the connected devices your child uses in communal areas of the home such as in the kitchen or living room.

Parents text content

For help setting up parental controls or reviewing the privacy settings of a connected device or toy, you can get advice by calling the NSPCC/O2 Helpline on 08088005002.