Smart security for kids

Two ASU researchers talk about security approaches they take with their own kids

August 22, 2019

Just as it’s increasingly common to find a smart home assistant on a countertop or an internet-connected camera at the front door, smart toys are also becoming ubiquitous in the playroom. But along with all the entertaining and interactive features come the same security and privacy concerns as other smart devices. 

“Kids can’t make these decisions for themselves,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. “They don’t have a good sense of what personal information is and what it’s going to mean for them in the world that’s coming.”   Illustration by Changwha Kyung Download Full Image

With more and more interactive, connected toys coming to market, parents need to be especially vigilant about what kind of information these devices ask from children. For instance, many smart toys collect personal information in service of a customized experience.    

“How delightful does your child find it when a device knows the name of their teddy bear and their dog and their best friend? But it’s all very personal information that is not necessarily being protected by toy manufacturers,” Winterton said.  

In 2015, a security researcher discovered that millions of user profiles were easily accessible on the website of interactive toy company VTech. These accessed profiles, which contained photos, email address, names of parents and children and chat logs, weren’t encrypted. As a result, VTech was fined by the FTC. 

Winterton’s guideline for her kids? Lie. In a piece she wrote for New America, she outlines why obscuring your age, name and other information online is a good internet safety for kids. 

Formulating a “secret identity” for every device and internet account has become second nature for Winterton’s children. Before a new toy or device has even come out of the box, there’s a new name, birthday and personal details created for it.  

“We started out by talking about why personal information is important,” Winterton said. “What could someone do with it? Does it feel right to share? Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them your name and birthday? We talk a lot about physical safety with kids, and I think there are a lot of analogies with internet safety we can make to help them understand why it’s important.”

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Global Security Initiative Director Nadya Bliss and Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for GSI, take different approaches when it comes to their children and the internet of things. While their strategies differ, the goal is the same: keeping their kids safe in a connected world. Photo by Andy DeLisle/ASU

READ MORE: 7 tips everyone can use to protect their privacy and security.

Global Security Initiative Director Nadya Bliss is wary of the implications carried with smart, personalized toys. Toys that come equipped with microphones and speakers to talk to children are of particular concern. 

“This essentially tells me, something in your child’s bedroom is recording your child and sending information back to a server, doing some analysis and responding,” said Bliss, a computer scientist and a professor of practice in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. “That creates all kinds of weird questions. For example: Who is listening to your child? Who can tap into that info and learn about your child? Also, if your child says they’re being hurt, is there a legal responsibility to report abuse?” 

Bliss isn’t the only one troubled by the implications of smart toys. In 2017, the FBI released a consumer notice outlining privacy concerns surrounding toys with “sensors, microphones, cameras, data storage components, and other multimedia capabilities.”  

Bliss is also focused on ensuring her daughter feels empowered down the line. 

“I want her to have some control over her own digital footprint,” she said. “Right now, you can see the entire lives of some kids on the internet. By the time they get to the point where they can make their own decisions, they might not want that.” 

Pete Zrioka

Assistant director of content strategy, Knowledge Enterprise


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ASU Library opens new spaces, services for fall semester

August 22, 2019

There are many ways to reinvent a library. This academic year, the Arizona State University Library will introduce you to a few of them.   

Just in time for the start of the fall semester, and amidst a major renovation, Hayden Library has opened the Concourse level, the first newly designed space of the Hayden2020 reinvention project.

The Concourse connects the lower levels of ASU’s largest library to its four-story, above-ground tower, set to open its doors this January.

“The ASU community will be glad to know that the Hayden Library has grown bigger this semester, not smaller,” said Tomalee Doan, associate university librarian for Engagement and Learning Services. “With the opening of the Concourse level, and as we get closer to 2020, students can expect to see greater options for studying, learning and research support.”

Eight new classrooms have been added to Hayden Library's Concourse, along with a new library entrance on the north side of the library near the School of Life Sciences. 

In addition to the new classrooms, Hayden Library now features more meeting and study space with enhanced casual seating options to make students feel more comfortable and supported during their study sessions and group work. 

Students looking to take a break and relax now have the option to browse a variety of themed book collections scattered throughout the new space or get a bite to eat at the P.O.D market.

The Hayden Library Concourse also houses an interfaith reflection room, for prayer and meditation, a wellness room and gender-inclusive restrooms. 

“We are nearing the finish line of the transformation of Hayden Library, and the new spaces that have opened this semester are a reflection of that,” Doan said. “It’s just the beginning of what’s to come.”

No more paywall 

If you are a current student, faculty or staff member enjoying your free digital access to the New York Times, then you will be happy to know that you also have free digital access to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

All you need to do is activate the account

The WSJ service can be accessed via tablet, smartphone app or the web, and the service includes resources for faculty to seamlessly integrate content into course pages in facilitating classroom discussion of relevant and timely news stories. 

Student accounts will stay active until their graduation date, while faculty and staff will need to validate their memberships once a year.  

For ASU students, faculty and staff seeking thoughtful entertainment — everything from Chaplin to foreign and independent films — high quality video content is available to stream free of charge via the Kanopy platform.

An on-demand streaming service for public libraries and universities, Kanopy features a large, curated collection of diverse, unique and award-winning films and documentaries.

To start streaming, all you need to do is sign up.

Boost your research

Several new support offerings for researchers are available through the ASU Library this semester.

Among them is Researcher Support, offering ASU researchers guidance across the research lifecycle, from planning to data storage, in an effort to maximize the quality, productivity and accessibility of ASU research.

For ASU students looking to gain the research skills that will help them succeed in graduate school, the Graduate Scholars Toolkit is a series of one-hour workshops offered at various times throughout the semester on a variety of topics, including copyright, citation management, collaboration and data sharing tools, data visualization and text analysis.

The workshops are offered on all campuses with more online offerings to come.

For students, faculty and staff looking for research opportunities in data science, the Unit for Data Science and Analytics is launching its Open Lab for the 2019–20 academic year. 

A weekly event in Hayden Library, the Open Lab brings together researchers interested in collaborating and learning new skills with ongoing and available projects that engage machine learning, data visualization, text and data mining, network analysis and more.

In addition to Open Lab, the Unit for Data Science and Analytics is also open for collaborations with faculty and staff. 

“Our model is to do great work in interdisciplinary data science, and we want to make sure we include as many people as possible, whether faculty, student or staff,” said Michael Simeone, director of data science for the ASU Library.

The lab also directly mentors students and teams, meeting by appointment for developing their experiments and studies. All skill levels are welcome. 

Interested in data science and/or Open Lab? Reach out to the team for more information. 

Get your books delivered 

Need to pick up some books but can’t make it to the library?

Get them delivered!  

Secure, self-service book delivery lockers are now available in Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus to allow for the quick and convenient picking up and returning of library materials. 

All you need is your Sun Card. 

Top photo: Student worker Max Stokes, a junior in global studies, shelves book collections related to the content to be taught in nearby classrooms. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now