| Screentime

Smartwatches for kids. How to find the perfect match?

| 09 Nov 2021

Kids’ safety is becoming increasingly ‘connected’ with parents now able to keep track of their child’s movement and location, often providing their offspring with a smartwatch. How to choose the most suitable product?

Smartwatches for kids are more and more popular among parents. No wonder – just like other smart devices, these tiny digital gadgets can save mums and dads a lot of worry, helping them to watch over their children’s whereabouts or even communicate with them. “But not all kid trackers are a great choice – you should definitely be picky about what you’re choosing,“ says Amer Owaida, a Security Writer at ESET. So what to watch out for? Follow these simple steps that will help you choose the most secure and handy product.

 

1. Look for as much information as you can

User reviews can be a great help if you want to make sure the device can be trusted. Search Google for the brand name, and even the model name, together with “security vulnerability” or similar word combinations.

 

2. Check how the manufacturer perceives cybersecurity

Is the communication between the device and the server encrypted? If not, refrain from buying that product. Also, read the privacy policies on the manufacturer’s website carefully to find out as much as you can about the company – be that their attitude towards cybersecurity or their safety ethos as a brand.

 

3. Search for vulnerabilities

Have there been any data breaches connected with the product or company? Has the brand faced security vulnerabilities? If so, how did the manufacturer behave and were those troubles resolved? And how quickly? If the company acted appropriately and was transparent about the problems, there is no need to panic. Security vulnerabilities occur relatively often, but it is essential to make sure that the manufacturer is ready to react immediately. Also, check if the software can be updated and, if so, whether the manufacturer does so regularly. Not the case? Go for another product or brand instead.

 

4. Brand matters

Refrain from buying off-brand devices, if you can not verify how they secure your data or where they upload it. Saving on the purchase price of a device may come at a heftier cost later on, such as your data being stolen.

 

5. Remember to do the updates yourself

Don’t just rely on the manufacturer – you as a parent should also update the firmware regularly, ensuring it’s running on the latest possible version. When patches are released, install them immediately, since they are usually aimed at making your device more secure. If you don’t, hackers could exploit vulnerabilities to access your devices, something that you might have prevented had you installed the patch that addresses these issues.

 

6. Consider what functions you need

Would you like to communicate via the smartwatch or make video or phone calls with your child? Look for a device with an in-built camera, speaker or microphone. Or would your needs be sufficiently met with a simple SOS function that – in case of emergency – contacts someone from a pre-defined list of contacts? And how important is geofencing, a function that lets you know when your child leaves a particular area, for you?

Before investing in a smartwatch, consider how much control you wish to have. There are even models that allow you to listen to your children’s conversations and surrounding sounds. Such functions might be useful in case your child starts interacting with a stranger. Some watches even include games and challenges. In any case, the more functions the smartwatch has, the higher the chance its battery life sinks. Some models need to be charged almost every day, others last even for weeks.

No matter how feature-loaded a device you decide to buy, always keep in mind that the more functions the device offers, the more potential touchpoints there are for hackers. If you choose a smartwatch that is packed with advanced technology, make sure it’s also properly secured.

All in all, smartwatches might be a great help, if correctly chosen. The more time you spend researching the devices, not settling for the cheapest choice, the greater the probability that smartwatches become your and your kids’ best friend, wherever they go.

Global market share of kids' smartwatches

 

Why does cybersecurity matter?

Smartwatches are connected to servers. If not properly secured, they might be the easiest way for hackers to get into the device, accessing information about your child, from the location and name to phone numbers and conversations.  “That could inadvertently put your children at risk instead of keeping them safe,” states Owaida. What’s more, due to some security vulnerabilities, cybercriminals may even be able to contact the child.

In 2019, the AV Test Institute discovered that a Chinese manufacturer, producing the SMA-WATCH-M2 smartwatch, exposed the data of more than five thousand children around the globe, by not paying enough attention to the servers’ security – turning the watches into potential surveillance devices. Using the leaked data, the daily habits of a 10-year-old Anna from Germany could be reconstructed, including the GPS location of the child as well as her address and the routes she takes. “Masses of cheap Chinese-made IoT devices are failing to meet minimum IT security or privacy standards,” warns Maik Morgenstern from AV Test.

Amongst other things, the manufacturer’s servers were unencrypted and the online interface completely unsecured. Perhaps even more worryingly, this was not an isolated case. Earlier that year, the European Commission even ordered the recall of the Safe-KID-One smartwatch, also due to privacy and security concerns.

 
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