Children at Play: Thoughts about the impact of networked toys in the game of life and the role of law


  • Ulrich Gaspar



Information communication technology is spreading fast and wide. Driven by convenience, it enables people to undertake personal tasks and make decisions more easily and efficiently. Convenience enjoys an air of liberation as well as self-expression affecting all areas of life. The industry for children's toys is a major economic market becoming ever more tech-related and drawn into the battle for convenience. Like any other tech-related industry, this battle is about industry dominance and, currently, that involves networked toys. Networked toys aim to enhance convenience for children and parents alike. Increasingly difficult to resist, these convenient networked devices are also a societal game changer. Neatly nestled in a lacuna juris and surrounded by a lack of clinical evidence, networked toys raise complex ethical issues concerning human development. This article lays bare the regulatory nexus for networked toys and invites ethical thinking to fill the gap to ensure sufficient protection for all human developmental stages. Networked toys not only affect but also might interfere with child development. Therefore, the article initially summarises the four key psychological stages through which the neurological development of the human brain processes. Each of these stages involves vital windows for human development in cognitive, emotional and social dimensions. Missing any of these developmental windows changes an individual human for life. The article then takes a look at the two main legal frameworks protecting the stages of human development which are applicable to networked toys: First, the examination of the human rights framework with its major segments emanating from the fundamental rights to privacy for family and home, to a child's education as well as to personal data reveals the use of current networked toys as a shielded part of parenting which tends to be at odds with privacy and data protection requirements. Second, the product liability framework for toy manufacturers requires evidence-based causality for putting a child's safety at risk. Unfortunately, these legal frameworks fail to offer sufficient protection of the human developmental stages. There is a lacuna juris. Although networked toys involve the risk of negatively impacting human development in every dimension, clinical psychological studies are impossible to acquire as court evidence for product liability because they take too long to provide reliable data while exposing several generations of children to the examined risk in the process. Meanwhile the temptation of convenience continues to drive the industry and consumers of networked toys and devices, which are already impacting children of all age groups. Accepting this phenomenon as an element of cognitive dissonance in society and in science falls far short of an appropriate ethical balance. The need for creating such an ethical balance concerning networked toys is all the more imperative because even if the networked toy industry managed to eliminate all psychological risks for human development and every legal conflict with privacy and security, significant ethical and societal risks of networked toys remain due to inevitable technological bias. Against these mounting changes, it is suggested that only an ethical approach of interdisciplinary research and learning seems most promising to develop an appropriate equilibrium between the complex challenges posed by networked toys and the societal values at stake.




How to Cite

Gaspar, Ulrich. 2018. “Children at Play: Thoughts about the Impact of Networked Toys in the Game of Life and the Role of Law”. The International Review of Information Ethics 27 (December). Edmonton, Canada.