Federal Network Agency: Caution when buying smart Christmas gifts

The Christmas season is upon us, and many people are thinking about what gifts will be under the tree in three weeks' time. Smart devices, i.e. toys or everyday helpers that are constantly connected to the Internet, are in vogue again this year. The Federal Network Agency is currently warning people to critically examine networked devices before buying them. Especially if they are to be used in a child's room.

Smart devices are practical everyday helpers. Voice assistants control household appliances or answer questions, smart watches log vital signs, and connected toys entertain young and old. With all the practical functions, it's easy to forget that the devices can constantly record and store data. This is particularly problematic when it comes to video and audio recordings, because secretly making these recordings is prohibited. If the camera or microphone are hidden or concealed inside an everyday object, it is a prohibited broadcasting device under Section 90 of the Telecommunications Act.

The Federal Network Agency therefore warns against the following product categories in particular:

Smart Toys

Robots controlled by apps, talking dolls or networked cuddly toys - toys that are radio-capable and can listen in on or secretly observe conversations of a child and other persons are prohibited in Germany. What is permitted is toys that answer a child's questions without establishing an Internet connection and transmitting data to the manufacturer, for example.

Smartwatches with eavesdropping or covert image recording function

If a smartwatch has a listening function (often referred to as "voice monitoring," "baby monitor function," "one-way conversation") or a covert image recording function in addition to a normal phone function, this is prohibited in Germany. In these cases, the smartwatch's microphone or camera can be activated either via app or SMS command, so that all voices and noises in the watch's environment can be overheard or pictures taken without being noticed. Neither the wearer of the watch nor the watch wearer's conversation partners can detect this.

GPS/GSM trackers with eavesdropping function

GPS/GSM trackers can be used to locate stolen vehicles or runaway pets. For business purposes, they are installed in company vehicles or truck fleets. As soon as the trackers have a listening function that can be activated remotely via app or SMS command, they are banned in Germany. In principle, anyone who knows the phone number of the GPS/GSM tracker's SIM card can activate this interception function.

Consumers should pay attention to this:

  • Does an item have a radio-capable camera or microphone?
  • Are image or audio files transmitted wirelessly to the manufacturer? If so, the person being recorded must have full control over this!
  • Can the microphone or camera be secretly accessed externally? Then a device is prohibited!

The Federal Network Agency advises consumers to find out exactly how networked everyday objects work before buying them. In addition, the product description and data protection provisions of the associated apps should be examined closely.

If there is any uncertainty as to whether a particular item is prohibited, consumers can contact the Federal Network Agency by e-mail at spionagegeraete⁠☞ Please insert an @ here ☜⁠bnetza⁠☞ Please insert a dot here ☜⁠de or by phone at 030/22480-500 (Mon.-Fri. from 09:00 to 12:00).

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