Privacy in Marketplace

Smartwatches for Parents to Safeguard Their Children Could Put Them at Risk

CFA and other Consumer and Privacy Groups Call for Federal Trade Commission to Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) joined the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG in a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen and Commissioner Terrell McSweeny urging them to open an investigation of smartwatches for children. A new analysis by the Norwegian Consumer Council of four of these watches, which allow parents to use an app on their smartphones to keep in touch with their children and track their locations, and an accompanying security assessment that the group commissioned, found some serious privacy and security concerns. Three of these watches and their accompanying apps, the Caref/Gator, SeTracker/Wonlex, and Tinitell, are available in the U.S. market.

One of the problems that U.S. groups cited in the letter to the FTC is that these products may not be in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which the FTC enforces. COPPA requires operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age, to provide clear information about their privacy practices and get parental consent before collecting personal information from the children. Furthermore, as the Norwegian report describes, hackers could take control of some of the apps, which would enable them to access children’s locations and personal details, and even contact them directly. In addition, some of the key features such as an SOS button that alerts parents when their children need help, and a geofencing function that sends alerts when the child enters or leaves a designated area, may not work reliably.

“It is ironic that products that are designed to protect children may actually put them in peril and give their parents a false sense of security,” said Susan Grant, CFA Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy. “We’re asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into these problems immediately and we want to send a strong message to manufacturers that they shouldn’t be putting products in the market that jeopardize kids’ privacy and safety.”

Contact: Susan Grant, 202-939-1003

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.