So, Your Child Wants A Smartwatch for Christmas? Here’s What You Need to Know

My youngest son is a Smartwatch fanatic. At the age of 14, he’s already ‘progressed’ through much-loved Pebble and Sony devices. Is it a James Bond thing? Sorry 007, I don’t think so. Rather, Mr 14 is a tech-savvy consumer who always ‘needs’ to have the latest and greatest. Bet you have one of those in your house, too!

If your child is keen to add a Smartwatch to his or her Christmas list, then please take a minute to weigh up the pros and cons. While these flashy looking devices are a super cool fashion accessory that can help us keep an ‘eye on our kids’, there are also some risks. So before you put the call into Santa, here’s some points to consider:

1. Do They Really Need One?

Sorry, I have to ask. Smartwatches are like mini computers that do so much more than tell the time. Most Smartwatch apps are also available on your phone. I totally get that Smartwatch apps may be super handy if you’re a runner who needs to manage your heartrate and buy a latte on- route. But does a teen going to and from school – who also has a smartphone in their pocket – really need one?

2. Can They Help Keep Kids Safe?

Most Smartwatches come with a built-in GPS tracker, so you can monitor the whereabouts of your child. Some models also allow you to set a safe zone that will send you an alert if your child leaves this area. So, yes – if your child wears a Smartwatch, you will be able to monitor their whereabouts which is very appealing to our ‘helicopter’ generation of parenting!

3. What Are The Risks?

In recent months, there has been a growing momentum of privacy concerns surrounding the children and the digital space. McAfee Labs has identified the increasing risk to children’s privacy as one of the top threat predictions for 2018. They believe organisations will use the digital content generated by children to achieve ‘app stickiness’ aka engagement and retention which will jeopardise our children’s privacy.

And they are not alone in their concerns.  Germany’s Regulator, the Federal Network Agency, recently issued a blanket ban on Smartwatches aimed at children, describing them as ‘spying devices’. The agency also issued a strong recommendation to parents who had already purchased such a device to destroy them! In October, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), also reported concerns over the security flaws, privacy concerns and risks posed by unreliable Smartwatch features. Here is a summary of their concerns:

  • Smartwatches can be used to listen in to the child’s environment which means they should be regarded as an unauthorised transmitting device. According to research by the German Federal Network Agency, smartwatches are used by parents to listen to teachers in their child’s classroom.
  • Some Smartwatches had flaws such as transmitting and storing data without encryption making it easier for strangers, using basic hacking techniques, to track your child or make it appear that your child was in a completely different location. This lack of encryption also puts your child’s privacy and identity at risk. This was uncovered by the NCC.
  • The NCC also identified that some of the core features of Smartwatches such as geofencing to set up alerts if kids move outside a pre-set zone and SOS buttons were ‘flakey’ and non-functional which gave parents a false sense of security.

How To Secure Your Smartwatch

If your teen is still committed to the idea of a Smartwatch, there are steps you can take to better protect your child’s privacy. Remember, we don’t live in a perfect world, so it’s all about risk management!

  • Do not keep any personal information on your watch especially banking and credit card details and your address.
  • Don’t download apps for the Smartwatch from unknown sources. They may be designed to mine your personal information.
  • Keep your Smartwatch up to date. As soon as software updates become available, download them immediately to prevent cyber criminals from hacking your device.
  • Use complex and unique passwords when setting up the device and creating any new accounts. A combination of lower and upper case, letters, numbers and special characters is ideal.
  • Only use secured Wi-Fi networks when connecting to the internet – avoid public Wi-Fi.
  • Provide the bare minimum of required information when inputting information for user accounts.

Being a first-generation digital parent is really tough. The lure of the latest, shiniest tech offerings can be so very enticing, yet we need to make the tough calls and ensure our kids are safe! As a parent, if you aren’t convinced that any device – including a Smartwatch – will keep your children or your personal information safe, then just don’t buy it. It’s that simple!

Happy Christmas!

Alex xx

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