As the holiday shopping season gets underway, a non-partisan consumer research group is warning about the risk of privacy infringement, data collection and other concerns that should be considered when choosing a safe Christmas toy for children this year.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund published the 33rd annual “Trouble in Toyland” safety report last week, focusing on the dangers many popular toys on the market may pose to children.
This year’s list highlights many well-known dangers, such as toys containing lead or those posing a choking hazard to young children. However, it also warns that many new toys are connected to the internet, raising concerns about privacy and data collection involving children. At times, the toys even violate consumer protection laws, the report warns.
For example, the Federal Trade Commission charged VTech Electronics with collecting personal data on hundreds of thousands of children without parental consent or knowledge. Furthermore, a hacker later gained access to that data, endangering children further.
The Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition also shares a child’s private information with third parties for advertising purposes. Toys with microphones could record and collect data on a child’s name, school, likes, dislikes, and activity. Many other toys also collect data on children and share information with third parties, posing the same threats.
The FBI encourages consumers to consider cyber security before introducing smart, internet-connected toys to their children.
Other toys listed on the new report include those that pose a choking hazard to children due to small parts, small balls, magnets, and balloons.
For example, the L.O.L. Surprise toy contains small parts and small balls that can be a choking hazard and is marketed to kids younger than 6. The Hatchimals Fabula Forest toy, a widely popular toy among young children, can pose a choking hazard when the egg breaks open, creating small pieces.
Similarly, when balloons are swallowed they can choke a small child. Many of the balloon toys sold on Amazon were sold without an adequate safety warning for parents. Magnets are another risk which can cause complications after being ingested. The magnets are often more powerful than fridge magnets and can attract to each other and perforate intestinal walls, cause obstructions, or pinch the intestines.
From 2001 to 2016, a total of 116 kids died from choking or asphyxiation by a toy or play item. During the same time period, 38 choking deaths occurred from small balls specifically.
Other hazards include toys which contain toxic chemicals, such as slime toys. Kidsco Glow in the Dark Slime, sold at Walmart, contains 4600 ppm of boron. Kangaroos Original Super Cool Slime sold on Amazon contains 4700 ppm. This is 15 times the European Union’s limit for boron in sticky liquid toys.
The U.S. sets limits for boron in drinking water. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health sets limits for worker exposure, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not set boron limits for consumer products or toys.
The new report also warned that while prior year’s reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other actions, many hazardous toys are still on the market and parents must be vigilant.
The PIRG is an independent non-partisan consumer watchdog group that focuses on issues concerning the consumer and public interest.