Children searching the web for the toys predicted to be the biggest sellers this Christmas are at risk of being exposed to inappropriate, adult images including drug-taking, gun violence and sex, warns Kaspersky Lab. Researchers from the internet security expert found that searches for some of this year's most popular toys often reveal erroneous and disturbing images on the first page of Google web or image search results.
Kaspersky Lab, which earlier this year found that children searching for their favourite TV characters on YouTube are typically just three clicks away from unsuitable content, cautions parents to activate parental controls on their home computers, tablets and smartphones.
Of the 12 toys predicted to be best sellers this Christmas, web searches for five quickly led to content that children could find disturbing or upsetting.
The first page of search results for these top toys revealed the following, inappropriate images:
- Furby – searching for the interactive toy brings up an image of a Furby smoking a marijuana joint
- Sesame Street Elmo Hugs shows an image of Evil Elmo, depicted as the devil, smoking, drinking spirits and toting a gun
- Teksta Dog brings up an image of a woman posing suggestively in a bikini
- Monopoly Empire – searching for the board game designed for children aged eight years and upwards, reveals a man in a Monopoly character mask pointing guns at the heads of two women in bikinis
- Disney Talking Sofia shows a less than Disney-like picture of a topless Sofia Coppola.
"With Christmas excitement building, now is the time that children are starting to write their Christmas wish list to send in a letter to Father Christmas. Flicking through the Argos catalogue to compile their lists has been replaced by searching the internet using Mum's tablet or Dad's smartphone to look at pictures of the toys and games they've seen advertised on telly or heard their friends talking about at school," says David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab. "Children should be able to do this without the risk of stumbling across something they shouldn't see and we don't want parents to feel they have to deny them this experience. With effective parental controls that block inappropriate content, they don't have to."
Mother of two young boys Angela Woodward comments, "As the parent of two young boys who are excited about Christmas and what they are hoping to receive under the Christmas tree, this is an issue I'm really concerned about. Technology is such an everyday commodity. Kids are becoming more and more tech savvy about the internet and exploring its contents. Although I'm careful to monitor my children's activity when they go online, I can't watch everything. It worries me that they may stumble across things that aren't suitable for their age."
David Emm gives three tips for protecting your family online:
1. Be open – Encourage your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socialising with. Promote a culture of safety within the home and talk about the possible dangers which exist.
2. Supervision – This may seem obvious, but supervise your child's internet use. Encourage them to visit and stay on websites you're familiar with. If you have any concerns you can look at their browsing history. Be sure to know about any password protected sites they may be accessing and ask them to share their login details with you.
3. Protect your family – Use parental control on sites you don't want your child looking at as part of your online security product– it's an easy way to avoid disaster.