Though just about any parent I’ve spoken with will tell you that they wish they could install a tracking device on their kids, maybe we should be more careful in wishing. This time the monkey’s paw is curling around a new smartwatch for kids that (up until recently) came with a hidden backdoor that, if used properly, could allow the device to take pictures which could then be uploaded to the manufacturer’s servers, as well as location data and sound as recorded by the devices microphone. Note that I wrote “used properly” in a purely technical and NOT ethical sense. While this feature could be extremely useful in locating a missing or abducted child the fact that this backdoor wasn’t disclosed is troubling, moreso once you consider where the smartwatch was made.
When does supervision become spying?
Though the device mentioned is being sold by a Norwegian company, they developed and manufactured it in partnership with a Chinese security firm that also happens to be on the US Commerce Department’s list of sanctioned companies due to it’s close ties with the Chinese government, which isn’t known for being a stalwart champion of human rights or privacy. In the product’s defense, the investigators who discovered the backdoor noted that being able to exploit the device would require access to data that would not be readily available. The manufacturer also pointed out that the data would only be uploaded to it’s private servers to which access was extremely limited, even to its own employees. On top of this, after being notified of the backdoor, the company has since issued a patch to close the backdoor.
Normally, I wouldn’t even bother pointing out this story to you as the smartwatch was never available for sale in the US (possibly because of the sanctioned Chinese partner) but I thought it would be a useful illustration of what is likely to be a common occurrence in the days ahead. Surveillance technology has taken remarkable leaps forward in ways that we both imagined and in ways that we overlook, like the fact that many of us have internet-connected devices in the same rooms as our children that is always listening and possibly watching as well. Technology is extremely complicated, and sometimes business partners aren’t always able to vet every aspect of their devices, especially if certain components aren’t built in countries that have the same standards as our own when it comes to privacy, security and quality. This is not to say that we shouldn’t buy things made elsewhere – what choice do we really have? – but that we should be mindful that it is no longer possible for the average human to ascertain whether the product we just put on our child’s wrist observes the same level of children’s rights we’ve come to expect in the US. Heck, even our own companies have gotten that wrong in the past, even when they should have known it was illegal.
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay