Beneath the Screen


February 7, 2018 00:00

Aaah will you look at him, isn’t he sweet? Don’t you just love that adorable innocent smile? The only thing this teddy bear lacks is a red face, and he should have one, because he was involved in a massive security breach where the account details of 800,00 users were leaked online, with many being exploited by hackers. It seems such a lovely idea; your child squeezes the toy and hears a message from you, wherever you are in the world. Then they can send you a message right back. The snag is, of course, that this requires the bear to have a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, and the company behind it to store your data. The manufacturers of this toy, Cloudpets, had a database which wasn’t protected by either a password or firewall, so hackers were able to access customer details and all the recordings made by parents and kids. 


Cloudpets are by no means the only offenders. Lots of parents in Germany bought a Cayla doll for their kids. Cayla is blonde, twinkly eyed, and looks, to be honest, like she’s had a bit too much plastic surgery. She also chatters about ponies and princesses and other things dolls like to talk about. However, Cayla doesn’t just talk, she also listens and records, allowing her to simulate a conversation with her owner. Germany’s telecommunications regulator, the Federal Communications Agency, warned parents that anyone could listen to these private conversations and talk to the child direct via Cayla’s insecure Bluetooth connection. They ordered Cayla to be taken off the shelves.


So how do we ensure that we’re not outsmarted by smart toys like these? It’s difficult, because we have to trust the toy makers to a great extent, and in the cases I’ve mentioned that trust was misplaced. You have to get used to being automatically wary of anything which has a camera, or a microphone, or a Bluetooth or wireless connection. You need to perform a bit of due diligence, by only buying genuine products from reputable manufacturers, and ensure everything is password protected and behind a firewall if possible. And if all else fails you could just buy one of those old-style teddies. They don’t listen to you or answer back, but maybe that’s not always a bad thing.


Darren Ruddell and Seamus Hilley

Beneath the Screen

Before they became a writing team, Darren Ruddell and Seamus Hilley individually won the prestigious Laughing Horse stand-up comedy (Darren), and The Channel Four sitcom competition (Seamus). Since joining forces they have had a short film produced by Channel Four and had a number of scripts optioned by Talkback and CPL Productions. Their innovative work for Serious Comedy has brought them commissions from numerous organisations, everyone from Lewisham Council to Virgin Media and school children all over the country have grown to love their funny, irreverent take on topics ranging from scooter safety to ecological education. They are based in London.