Be Careful What Santa Leaves Under the Tree or the Consequences of the Internet of Things

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 I had to venture out today and actually enter a store.  This is not one of my favorite past times.  I abhor shopping in general and literally detest it at Christmas time.  Call me a humbug.  Call me an outlier.  Call me a cynic or a Scrooge.  I don’t care- just suspend your judgment long enough to hear me out.

 Today I witnessed the frenzy of buying technology toys and gadgets for all ages and I was alarmed.  It helps that there are plenty of others echoing my sentiments (just google ‘dangers of the internet of things’) but I won’t mince my words since I am admittedly disturbed with our willingness to ignore essential issues solely to obtain a mountain of ‘things’, have our convenience,  play solitaire or Farmville on our tablets, or use technology as a babysitter for our children. 

 So, allow me to rant a tad in the hopes that you may pay attention to your higher self before you spend your hard-earned money on things that may prove quite disruptive, or indeed destructive. – Jinx Davis

Let’s start with the Little Ones…

It’s common knowledge that Barbie was modeled after a German post-war sex doll and adult cartoon and adopted by an American woman named Ruth Handler, who suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. Ever since her introduction in 1959, she has brought both adulation and searing criticism.  You can choose to ignore that fact that empirical studies have confirmed that Barbie’s body proportions, as a cultural icon of female beauty, are unrealistic, unhealthy and unattainable.  You can even ignore that she offers a young girl a false future of carefree consumption if they sell themselves out – but you cannot ignore what Barbie can do to you kids now. Don’t ignore the danger.


Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is demanding that toymaker Mattel halts the marketing and production of “Hello Barbie.” The Wi-Fi-connected doll uses an embedded microphone to record children’s voices—and other nearby conversations—before transmitting them over the Internet to cloud servers. Mattel’s technology partner ToyTalk then processes the audio with voice-recognition software. During its Toy Fair 2015 product demonstration, Mattel said it will use this information to “push data” back to children through Barbie’s built-in speaker.


“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” said Dr. Susan Linn, CCFC’s Executive Director. “It’s creepy—and creates a host of dangers for children and families.”


 Angela Campbell, JD, Georgetown University Law Professor and Faculty Advisor to the school’s Center on Privacy and Technology, said, “If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed. In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.

It’s no surprise that Hello Barbie was immediately hacked.   Yesterday, the talking Barbie doll has been hit with a class-action suit by parents who say a security flaw with the toy has allowed hackers to compromise their children’s privacy.


In the wake of reports that the “Hello Barbie” doll collects personal information that can easily be obtained by hackers, attorneys in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday filed a suit against Mattel, ToyTalk, and kidSAFE, an independent company that ensures toys adhere to provisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.


Security researcher Matthew Jakubowski told NBC News last month that digital information collected by the doll is stored remotely on the cloud and can be compromised to allow an unauthorized person to access sensitive information that should have been protected.  “I was able to get some information out of it that I probably shouldn’t have,” Mr. Jakubowski said, including system information, Wi-Fi configuration settings and other unique data that could be traced back to a particular doll.  “You can take that information and find out a person’s house or business,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time until we are able to replace their servers with ours and have her say anything we want.”

I’m talking about hacking — a new threat to the safety of children.

A Hong Kong-based company called VTech got hacked Nov. 14. VTech makes a wide variety of consumer electronics and is one of the world’s largest toy makers. Some of their toys encourage the use of VTech’s Kid Connect program, which enables kids to chat with parents and download content.


The hacker exposed the breach to the online publication Motherboard and claimed that the point of the hack was to expose VTech’s bad security.

The hacker was able to steal names, mailing addresses, email addresses, IP addresses, download histories, the genders and birth dates of the children, pictures of the victims, chats conducted between parents and their children, and much more.


According to reports, nearly 6 million children were affected.


Gender politics and the loss of children’s’ ability to learn imaginative play aside, do you really want to give your beloved children toys like this?

So what about your toothbrush, car, and bathtub?


There are reasons to be fearful of the Internet of Things (IoT), a name covering the networks of embedded devices, from smart meters to connected automobiles, which communicate with each other in an automated fashion to help make our lives more efficient.


The number of connected devices is escalating rapidly into new areas, like toothbrushes and bathtubs. The IoT will consist of 26 billion units by 2020, and by that time, the industry may be worth a trillion dollars.  The problem is that many of the manufacturers of these machines are not taking the secure-by-design approach.  They are almost all easy to hack.  


According to the FTC, 25 billion objects are already online worldwide, gathering information using sensors and communicating with each other over the internet, and this number is growing, with consumer goods companies, auto manufacturers, health care providers, and so many other businesses investing in the new breed of connected devices.


Such devices can help monitor your health, improve safety on highways, and make your home more efficient. But the FTC says that as manufacturers work to reduce the friction involved in using these smart things—to let people more easily gather data and send it to and fro—privacy and security is becoming a serious consumer concern.


Computers have already spread from people’s desktops into their pockets.  Now they are embedding themselves in all sorts of gadgets, from televisions to toy, refrigerators, toilets and industrial kits.  Each of them carries the good and the bad…and they all can be used for malevolence.


Sadly, we are all buying them for Christmas gifts, without a single care.


It doesn’t feel right to admonish or grumble too loudly when we should be celebrating life this season.  We’re humans after all.  Yet, as we approach the holidays,  the Millennium Group has had its hands full of businesses and individuals that were unwilling or unable to care about their computers and technology and as a result, they put themselves and countless others in harms way.


It is our holiday wish that you think about the gifts you give.  Throughout history, we mortals have found ways to celebrate our sacred traditions with meaning.  We do not have to buy a mountain of things and succumb to sheer consumerism.  


The Internet of Things will not go away and both children and adults will always want their toys – but we can, indeed we must, learn to cast aside our naivete and our denial. The United States Federal Trade Commission warns that 70 percent of the most commonly used Internet of Things devices had serious security vulnerabilities…and many of these will be given as holiday gifts this year.


This season, give yourself away.  It is you that your friends and family want and need. Barbie and another online game can wait.  


We thought carefully about our company’s tagline and we mean it.



Millennium Group

It’s not about technology.  It’s about people.