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How Family Brands Can Keep Digital Playgrounds Safe Without Taking Tech Out of Kids' Hands
Kids today need three things to thrive: family, play, and technology. Connected Play is a perfect blend of all three: enjoying connections with loved ones and friends using devices in a fun, safe manner.
Innovative toy and mobile app makers have stepped up to meet the steadily growing demand for “smart” devices and games that enable connected play. According to industry analyst Juniper Research, the market for connected toys should reach $15.5 billion by 2022. This doesn’t even include the wearables market, which is also set to explode. It’s not far-fetched to say that, in 10 years, every household and recreational object will be “smart.”
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that with several recent data security breaches related to kids’ use of connected toys and social media outlets, many parents are understandably concerned about the potential safety and privacy risks of letting their kids play anywhere in an online world. Despite FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) data security requirements, such data breaches can still occur.
Unfortunately, the FTC simply doesn’t have the staff or resources to police every corner of the internet or toy industry. That means ensuring COPPA compliance usually doesn’t happen until it’s too late, in other words, when user data has already been compromised and class-action lawsuits filed. With continued growth in the connected play market, more data breaches and negative headlines are sure to follow trust being eroded with each negative headline. So, family brands that want to develop “smart” products and earn consumers’ trust can’t afford to take security for granted.
What’s a Responsible Brand to Do?
To develop a connected toy that sells, family brands have to maintain a delicate balance. While they are driven to innovate and offer exciting, full-featured products that engage with younger users they must be COPPA-compliant and give parents some level of control.
As someone who spent almost 10 years in the aerospace sector as a USAF officer and as a civilian designing and leading technology development programs for DoD, NASA, and commercial space, I speak from experience when I say:
Data security is difficult.
This is true even for security experts entrusted with the task 24-7. Connected play and toys require kids and adults to use complex platforms with multiple entry points. If someone – some hacker – spends enough time, they can get in and would like nothing better than to take a company down just for the ego-boosting headlines.
For a toymaker whose primary focus is product R&D and marketing, data security can be overwhelming. Most companies don’t have the needed resources or cloud platform to manage it, though many have tried. In the end, data security is not their expertise, and that inevitably leads to mistakes that can cost them and their customers dearly. Thus, outsourcing data security has become an attractive option for family brands.
Ideally, a third-party solution provides kids, friends and family members with a single doorway to safe, connected play. It’s also one that makes a parent’s life easier, allowing them to manage it across all areas, including school, youth sports, entertainment, and smart devices.
In 2014, I created playPORTAL (formerly iOKids) to be that doorway family brands and consumers could trust to help secure the future of connected play. Already, as more and more everyday objects become “smart” devices, we’re discovering that to be outside is to be connected. So, our goal with the playPORTAL platform is to put together a network that allows kids to safely connect with their whole world – both on and offline.
Backed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), PlayPORTAL sets a completely new data privacy standard for COPPA compliance and consent, and provides a kid-safe, all-ages platform for play by a true family network – kids, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and friends. It also gives parents a higher level of comfort by equipping them with the proper tools to manage and monitor their children’s online experiences without feeling overly intrusive. Our playPORTAL dashboard allows parents to:
- Onboard/register their kids and set permissions based on their preferred level of involvement in online activities
- Monitor and approve/disapprove apps and friends.
- Monitor all chat and app activity.
- See with whom their kids communicate.
- Connect to other parents within their child’s friend network.
Connected Play is Here to Stay
Family brands see growth opportunities in connected play as their future. While data security and privacy issues are potential stumbling blocks, companies are acutely aware that if they hold back, then they risk losing customers – particularly kids – to some other cool gadget, toy, or activity.
Obviously, there’s a balance to be struck between innovation and security.
Regardless of data security concerns, there’s no denying that connected play and the Internet of Things are here to stay. And the sooner kid- and family-focused brands can establish a truly secure privacy compliant doorway to connect users with toys, apps, and everyday objects the less they’ll be stuck behind a screen and be out interacting with their world.
In the not-too-distant future it’ll be a smart ball kids are going outside to kick, or they’ll be riding their smart bike, their friends will challenge them to get up and move and play basketball outside with wearables, smart balls, and smart hoops. That’s the future.
The future of play may involve fewer screens, but it isn’t going to be any less digital. It’s one where everything is smart. I see playPORTAL as the platform to power that transformation so kids – and adults – are no longer stuck behind screens. playPORTAL is the doorway that will ensure parents continue to be the gatekeepers.