The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Smart for Baby: A Primer from Privacy Experts

Jul 22, 2021, 09:00 AM by Cameryn Gonnella, Compliance Manager, Children’s Advertising Review Unit, BBB National Programs

Every family wants to protect their little ones, but in a marketplace where caregivers of newborns are bombarded with the latest and greatest baby products, making a selection can be overwhelming. Product selection is further complicated by the rising popularity of smart baby devices – baby products that connect to the internet. In addition to learning whether the product works, connected devices also raise questions about privacy and the digital footprint you are creating for your baby before they can even walk. 

Researching a new product and finding the critical or in-depth information you are looking for to build confidence in your purchasing decision often requires sifting through superficial lists of “best products.” These lists are often sponsored by the products they feature, which means instead of a focus on being helpful they are full of incentivized endorsements and affiliate links. 

In this blog, we provide a list – not a sponsored list – of some do’s and don’ts for how to confidently research smart devices.

 

The Do’s

Dive deep in your research.

Get to know the company that manufactures the smart device you are considering. As you dig around, look for trusted news sources and consider branching out into industry tech news that will cover topics such as security gaps or privacy weaknesses in products. If you have never heard of the publication, examine a few articles to make sure what you are reading is not sponsored content. If a company or its products are popping up in articles you read for the wrong reasons, you may be wise to look for a smart baby product elsewhere. 

User reviews can also be a good litmus test to see if a smart baby device is worth its salt. There are a wealth of written reviews, YouTube videos, and blog posts dedicated to evaluating smart baby devices, especially products made by well-known brands. YouTube video reviews can be particularly helpful because you can “see” the product in action, giving you a better sense of how to use it and any defects or shortcomings.

However, keep in mind that some reviews are incentivized, meaning reviewers could be compensated for leaving a glowing report. Some websites now label which reviews are sponsored so you can weigh the value of the reviewer’s opinion. But as many websites do not disclose this information you can combat misleading ratings by looking at reviews across multiple different websites. 

 

Read the privacy policy.

A privacy policy will outline exactly what information a smart baby device could collect about your little one (and you), and almost all products on the market publicly post their privacy policies so that you review before you buy. 

Use the section headings within the policy as signposts to find the information you need about what information is collected, why that information collected, and who that information is shared with. 

If you are considering a smart device that collects health information, for example a baby’s vital signs, the company collecting the data may share it with other institutions for research purposes. If so, the privacy policy should tell you whether your information may be used for research and in what form it is shared. 

Check the settings and change default passwords. 

You do not have to be an engineer to secure your smart baby products. 

Once you have purchased a product, it is yours. Familiarize yourself with the functions and features so that you feel comfortable the product is behaving exactly as you intended. Pay special attention to any features where information could be collected from your baby, such as a baby monitor camera that transmits audio and video or a health device that collects sensitive health information, such as a baby’s vital signs or even their blood type. If a smart baby product connects to your home WiFi network, consider enabling added security settings to your network such as changing your WiFi name and password. 

Many smart baby products have companion apps to manage the device, which have their own separate settings and security challenges. Be mindful of any permissions the app requests to access, like location, camera, or microphone. It might be obvious when the smart baby product is collecting information (such as an indicator light when the camera is in use), but sometimes apps collect information in more covert ways that you may not notice. 

 

The Don’ts

Don’t leave default settings or passwords unchanged.

Unfortunately, no smart device is 100% secure, which means that a data breach or even a hack could potentially happen to a device you own. Changing the default password that came with the device – as well as any companion apps – is an easy first step. After that, set up two-factor authentication (2FA) if it is available. Using a secure password and two-factor authentication makes it harder for others to gain unauthorized access to the device. 

Just like for your phone or laptop, do not skip over firmware updates for your smart baby devices. Smart device manufacturers use firmware updates, which are typically sent to users’ devices remotely, to fix bugs, enhance device or app security, or add new features to the device or app. Many devices are set up to download new firmware updates automatically, but some may require you to download updates manually. 

 

Don’t believe the buzzwords. 

Using the words “safe” and “secure” are great for increasing sales, but when a product claims to be safe or secure without explaining why and how it is so safe, it can give buyers a false sense of security without anything to back it up.

To explain how unsubstantiated product claims can be a bad thing for buyers, in 2019 BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD) determined that a company called Owlet, a prominent maker of baby smart devices, was overstating what their smart sock baby product could do. Among other claims, Owlet stated that the smart sock would give parents “peace of mind” that their baby would “be okay.” NAD pointed out that the smart sock itself would not actually make sure a baby is okay, it only alerts the family of changes in a baby’s heart rate or oxygen levels. The disclosures Owlet made about the product’s actual function and purpose were also “hard to find” for consumers, “and full of dense technical language” that likely led some users to misinterpret the real function of the product.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Figuring out which smart baby product to buy can be complicated, but the resources are out there to help you get the information you need. With questions about a product, reach out to a company directly to ask for more information about the product, their privacy policy, or their security practices. Most companies want to help consumers understand how their products work and to feel good about purchasing them. You can typically find a company’s contact information on its website or at the end of its privacy policy.

You are not alone in trying to navigate online safety for you and your kids. If you are ever concerned about a smart baby product’s privacy practices, please let us know at infocaru@bbbnp.org.

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