The Connected Lives of Babies: Protecting First Footprints in the Digital World, Part 1

The Connected Lives of Babies: Protecting The First Footprints in the Digital World, Part One

A baby can leave their first footprints internet even before they’re born.

The fact is that children start creating an identity online before they even put a little pinky on a device, let alone come home for the first time. That “Hello, world!” moment can come much, much sooner. And it will come from you.

From posting baby’s ultrasound pic to sharing a video of the gender reveal celebration, these are the first digital footprints that your child will make. With your help, of course, because it’s you who’ll snap all those photos, capture all those videos, and share many of them on the internet. Yet even though you’re the one who took them, those digital footprints you’ve created belong to your child.

And that’s something for us to pause and consider during this wonderful (and challenging!) stretch of early parenthood. Just as we look out for our children’s well-being in every other aspect of their little lives, we must look out for their digital well-being too. Babies are entitled to privacy too. And their little digital lives need to be protected as well.

The connected lives of babies

Babies lives are more connected than you might think. Above and beyond the social media posts we make to commemorate all their “firsts,” from first solid food to first steps, there’s digital information that’s associated with your child as well. Things like Social Security Numbers, medical records, and even financial records related to them all exist, all of which need to be protected just like we protect that same digital information as adults.

Likewise, there’s all manner of connected devices like Wi-Fi baby monitors, baby sleep monitors, even smart cribs that sense restlessness in your baby and then rocks and soothes those little cares away. Or how about a smart changing table that tracks the weight of your child over time? You and your baby may make use of those. And because all these things are connected, they have to be protected.

This is the first of two articles that takes a look at this topic, and we’ll start with a look at making good choice about purchasing “smart devices” and connected baby monitors—each pieces of technology that parents should investigate before bringing them into their home or nursery.

Buying smart devices for baby, Part One: Connect with your care provider

As a new parent, or as a parent who’s just added another tyke to the nest, you’ll know just how many products are designed for your baby—and then marketed toward your fears or concerns. Before buying such smart devices, read reviews and speak with your health care provider to get the facts.

For example, you can purchase connected monitors that track metrics like baby’s breathing, heart rate, and blood-oxygen levels while they sleep. While they’re often presented as a means of providing peace of mind, the question to ask is what that biometric information can really do for you. This is where your health care provider can come in, because if you have concerns about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), that’s a much larger conversation. Your provider can discuss the topic with you about and whether such a device is an effective measure for your child.

Buying smart devices for baby, Part Two: Do your security research

Another question to ask is what’s done with the biometric data that such devices monitor. Is it kept on your smartphone, or is it stored in the cloud by the device manufacturer? Is that storage secure? Is the data shared with any third parties? Who owns that data? Can you opt in or opt out of sharing it? Can you access and delete it as needed? Your baby’s biometrics are highly personal info and must be protected as such. Without clear-cut answers about how your baby’s data is handled, you should consider giving that device a hard pass.

How do you get those answers? This is another instance where you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and read the privacy policy associated with the device or service in question. And as it is with privacy policies, some are written far more clearly and concisely than others. The information is in there. You may have to dig for it. (Of note, there are instances where parents consented to the use of their data for the purposes of government research, such as this study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.)

Related, here’s the advice I share on every connected “smart” device out there, from baby-related items to smart refrigerators: before you purchase, read up on reviews and comments from other customers. Look for news articles about the device manufacturer too. The fact of the matter is that some smart device manufacturers are much better at baking security protocols into their devices than others, so investigate their track record to see if you can uncover any issues with their products or security practices. Information such as this can help you make an even more informed choice.

Secure your Wi-Fi baby monitor (and other smart devices too)

An online search for “hacked baby monitor” will quickly call up several unsettling stories about hackers tuning into Wi-Fi baby monitors—scanning the camera about the room at will and perhaps even speaking directly to the child. Often, this is because the default factory password has not been changed by the parents. And a “default password” may as well be “public password” because lists of default passwords for connected devices are freely available on the internet. In fact, researchers from Ben Gurion University looked at the basic security of off-the-shelf smart devices found that, “It only took 30 minutes to find passwords for most of the devices and some of them were found only through a Google search of the brand.”

The three things you can do to prevent this from happening to your Wi-Fi baby monitor, along with other connected devices around your home, are:

  1. Change the default password. Use a strong and unique password for your baby monitor and other devices.
  2. Update. Check regularly for device updates, as they often harden the security of the device in addition to adding performance upgrades.
  • Use two-factor authentication if available. This, in addition to a password, offers an extra layer of protection that makes a device far more difficult to hack.

What about “old-style” baby monitors that work on a radio frequency (RF) like a walkie-talkie does? Given that they’re not connected to the internet, there’s less risk involved. That’s because hacking into an RF monitor requires a per person to be in close physical proximity to the device and have access to the same broadcast frequency as your device—a far less likely proposition, yet a risk none the less. Some modern RF baby monitors even encrypt the radio signal, mitigating that much more risk.

And now, let’s talk about online privacy for babies and children

Next up, we’ll take a closer look at baby’s privacy online. Yes, that’s a thing! And an important one at that, as taking charge of their privacy right now can protect them from cybercrime and harm as they get older.

Feel free to read on right here. 

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