Is your Christmas present spying on you? How to assess gifts’ privacy risks

Mattel introduced its interactive Hello Barbie doll in 2015 but withdrew it after privacy concerns were raised about the recordings it made of the children who spoke to it.(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Interactive toys and gadgets often collect a boatload of data about their users and their surroundings. Device manufacturers may convert the information into dollars by selling it to advertisers or data brokers. And even manufacturers that pledge never to share what they collect can’t guarantee that hackers won’t grab the data anyway.

Jen Caltrider, lead author of the Mozilla Foundation’s Privacy Not Included guide, said the privacy issues raised by smart devices range from the annoyance of targeted ads shadowing you around the web to the physical threat of someone stalking you with the help of a poorly designed Bluetooth tagger. There’s also the chance that weak data security by the manufacturer could allow criminals to steal your personal information or hack into the stream of information sent to and from the device.

Internet-connected devices that can see and hear come with the risk that they could snoop on their owners. That threat was one of the reasons Mattel discontinued its interactive “Hello Barbie” doll not long after it was released in 2015, in the wake of an outcry from security researchers and consumer advocates.