Is Germany right to tell parents to destroy kids' smartwatches over snooping fears?

After banning smart dolls, Germany now says no to smartwatches that allow parents to listen in on classrooms.

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Germany's federal network agency, the Bundesnetzagentur, has announced a ban on the sale of children's smartwatches because some models come with a remote listening capability, which counts as a spying device under German law.

The regulator has instructed buyers of these smartwatches to destroy them and obtain a certificate to prove the device has been made "harmless".

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It's also advised schools to be alert for the presence of watches with an 'interception' function among students. It considers the watches to be on par with other illegal spying devices, such as hidden cameras and microphones, which are banned to prevent remote surveillance.

"Via an app, parents can use such children's watches to listen unnoticed to the child's environment, and they are to be regarded as an unauthorized transmitting system," said Jochen Homann, president of the Bundesnetzagentur.

"According to our research, parents' watches are also used to listen to teachers in the classroom."

The same agency banned the sale of the talking doll Cayla and similarly told parents to destroy the toy after deeming it a spying device. The ban was announced after a researcher found that an attacker could connect to the device using Bluetooth without any authentication.

The ban on certain smartwatches follows a report by the Norwegian Consumer Council detailing several security flaws in three popular kids' smartwatches. Security researchers found they could allow a predator to view a child's real-time location and listen to them without any indication that the device was transmitting audio.

The findings prompted a call by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) for regulators to either force distributors to fix the issues or have them withdrawn from the market.

The FBI similarly posted an advisory earlier this year, warning parents about the risks that hidden sensors in smart toys pose to child safety.

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German bans smartwatches with remote-listening capabilities.

Image: Norwegian Consumer Council

Previous and related coverage

FBI to parents: Beware, your kid's smart toy could be a security risk

The FBI outlines the risks of giving your children a smart toy.

That smart doll could be a spy. Parents, smash [CNET]

The My Friend Cayla doll gets banned in Germany, where regulators classify it as an illegal "hidden espionage device."

IoT security: Keeping users on their toes means staying on yours [Tech Pro Research]

IoT has introduced new vulnerabilities that can put your network at risk. Providing users with ongoing security training--and examples that relate to their work--will help keep your data safe.

WA government awards research grant for investigation of internet-connected toys

The positive and negative implications of internet-connected children's toys will be examined by Western Australia's Edith Cowan University.

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