Germany bans sale of certain children’s smartwatches

20 Nov 2017

Parents are being urged to throw away certain smartwatch models. Image: MariaNikiforova/Shutterstock

The security of certain smartwatches aimed at children is shaky at best.

Last Friday (17 November), the German Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) announced the ban on children’s smartwatches that have one-way monitoring functions, according to Deutsche Welle.

The German agency described the particular models of smartwatches as “spying devices”, and urged parents who have bought such devices for their children to destroy them.

Pen Test Partners, a security services provider, said: “We’re really pleased to see that although there are no specific IoT laws yet in place, current legislation can be applied effectively when needed to ban insecure [sic] IoT products.”

I spy

Jochen Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency, said: “Via an app, parents can use such children’s watches to listen unnoticed to the child’s environment, and they are to be regarded as an unauthorised transmitting system.”

According to research carried out by the agency, parents were apparently using the watches to listen in on teachers in the classroom. The agency also asked that teachers pay closer attention to students wearing and using such watches in school.

Most of the watches are geared towards children aged between five and 12, and the devices are equipped with a SIM card and a limited telephony function, which is controlled with an app.

Making children vulnerable

In October, the Norwegian Consumer Council reported that some children’s smartwatch brands had flaws, such as transmitting and storing data without encryption.

The Norwegian report was carried out on behalf of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). The BEUC director general, Monique Goyens, said: “Parents buy them to protect their children. However, they are probably unaware that instead of protecting them, they are making their children more vulnerable.

“The EU urgently needs to regulate mandatory security standards for connected products. Producers should immediately fix these flaws or they should find their products withdrawn from the market.”

The report found that strangers could ostensibly track watch-wearers as they moved, or alter the appearance of a child’s location to give false coordinates.

Since the Norwegian investigation, both Gator and GPS For Kids said they had resolved the security issues, but this German ban is once again calling the safety of these devices into question.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects