Illinois group warns of dangers surrounding some kids' toys, including smart devices, water beads

ByRob Hughes WLS logo
Monday, November 20, 2023
Illinois group warns of dangers surrounding some kids' toys
The Illinois PIRG is warning of the dangers surrounding some girls' and boys' toys, including smart devices and water beads.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Consumer advocates are warning parents about the dangers that could be presented by some toys, as the holiday shopping season ramps up.

The annual Trouble in Toyland report focused on smart devices, which give some toys the ability to spy on children.

"We bought this on Amazon for about 20 bucks," said Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG. "Anybody can connect to this and turn it into a communication device."

The Illinois Public Interest Research Group is highlighting the dangers children growing up in 2023 face that didn't exist for their parents.

Scarr showed how a simple Bluetooth karaoke mic can turn into something much more sinister.

He broke down the safety issues plaguing many smart devices into two categories: the security of the connection and data collection.

"Anytime there's a computer involved in the toy or an app, there's a good chance it's collecting data about you or your children and then sending it back to the manufacturer, who could share it with third parties," Scarr said.

This past spring, the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice charged Amazon with violating children's privacy law by keeping kids' Alexa voice recordings forever, fining the tech company $25 million.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said she's working with the FTC to identify ways to be more proactive in the future.

"This is a problem. People want privacy. All people do, but we ought to be especially diligent when it comes to protecting our children," said Schakowsky, D-Evanston.

One toy phone is a positive example. It takes pictures and videos just like any other phone, but it doesn't connect to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The absence of that technology is actually an extra layer of security.

One item to keep an eye on, representing a more direct threat, especially to young children, is water beads.

"So these have become a huge threat to children," Scarr said. "I was shocked when I opened the package. I ordered them online. It's just a little plastic bag, no labeling, full of what looks like candy."

Water beads start as small as a cupcake sprinkle, but can grow up to 1,500 times in size if ingested or inhaled.

Experts say, add them to the list with button batteries and magnets as a serious danger for small kids.