Is the Internet of Things Taking Over Toys, Too?

Posted by | September 08, 2015 | Opinion | One Comment

The answer is yes. The Internet of Things is taking over everything. But what is the Internet of Things?

Basically, it’s the name for a really important shift in the way humans relate to technology. Over at TechCrunch, Mark Canter says: “I see the IoT as the culmination of all modern technology that is finally uniting the online technological world and the real world.” This makes sense. With more and more of our favorite objects getting connected to the Internet, all of us—including our kids—are getting more connected to the Internet. Right now connected “things” include everything from those sensors that tell you when your house is on fire to toys that have conversations with your kids. In the future, you can bet even more of our things will connect to the Internet and shift data back and forth.

Natasha Singer tackled this trend in a New York Times article about the new Hello Barbie doll, which is coming out this fall. Much like Siri, Hello Barbie will be able to carry on a conversation. Some people find this creepy, but there’s evidence that kids who play with smart toys like Hello Barbie learn more than kids who don’t.

And kids who play with smart toys are certainly less likely to be stuck sitting in front of a screen. With too much screen time being a big concern for most parents, the trend toward the Internet of Things and smart toys may be a net positive.

But, as reported in Fast Company, many privacy groups have issued warnings about these toys: “Under Hello Barbie’s terms of service, recordings ‘may be used for research and development purposes,’ things like improving its technology and refining its algorithms.” While the data is not supposed to be used for advertising or marketing purposes, the lines can get a little blurred. And then there’s the issue of whether kids should sometimes be able to play without their parents being privy to everything they say and do. If Hello Barbie and other toys like it record sessions with kids and make those recordings available to parents, how will that change the parent-child relationship? I was the kind of parent who didn’t spy on my kids (hardly at all, anyhow), but I know a lot of parents who’ve gotten carried away and ended up completely failing to respect their kids’ privacy.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the Digital Kids Summit 2015—a conference that covers what’s coming to market in the world of connected toys, apps, and games.  If last year’s Summit is any indication, smart toys and the Internet of Things will be a hot topic. I’ll let you know what I find out.

Linda Breneman

About Linda Breneman

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda Breneman.com or her family foundation's website, ludusproject.org.