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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Ethical Issues and the Internet of Toys

wrapped presents

wrapped presents

Increased Awareness Is a Gift, Too

Irina Raicu

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics; she tweets at @IEthics. Views are her own.

‘Tis the season for toy-buying and toy-giving, and some of those toys are connected to the internet—part of what, in a recent workshop with Santa Clara University computer science and engineering students, we dubbed “IoT: The Internet of Toys.” (For more details, see “What We Are Doing with Ethical CS at Santa Clara University.”)

Recently, the New York State Division of Consumer Protection issued a holiday series of consumer alerts, including one focused on connected toys; the alert  includes suggestions for ways to make interactions with such toys safer.

But there are interesting ethical issues created by IoT toys that go beyond security-related ones.

In the spirit of the holiday season and of retrospectives, here is a collection of past blog posts addressing some of those issues, and a few related teaching resources focused on internet-connected toys:

“Et Tu, Barbie? New toy raises privacy concerns”: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/et-tu-barbie/

“On Internet-Connected Toys and Human Flourishing: Hello, privacy”: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/on-internet-connected-toys-and-human-flourishing/

“Aristotle in Cyberspace”: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/cybersecurity-awareness-month/

“Parenting, Politeness, Parents, and Priests: An AI-free Zone?” https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/parenting-politeness-poets-and-priests/

“Speaking Ill of the Discontinued: ‘Hello Barbie’ still owes us a conversation about cybersecurity and privacy”: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/internet-ethics-blog/speaking-ill-of-the-discontinued/

“The ‘Goodbye Fears Monster’: An Ethics Case Study”: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/internet-ethics/resources/the-goodbye-fears-monster/

“An Introduction to Cybersecurity Ethics” (a teaching module that includes case studies, one of which is about internet-connected toys): https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/technology-ethics/resources/an-introduction-to-cybersecurity-ethics/

Earlier this year, Netflix announced that it will launch several “Elf on the Shelf” projects, including movies and animation specials. The elves on shelves are not, themselves, connected to the internet (yet) (as far as I can tell), but perhaps parents can watch the movies with their children and use them as springboards for conversations about toys that collect (and pass on) information about what they see and hear. In a year of staying at home and living so much of our lives through the internet, increased awareness is a gift, too.

Photo: "wrapped presents," cropped, by Muffet, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dec 23, 2020

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