March 6, 2018 | Washington, DC
FOSI Briefs the Hill on Connected Families



March 6, 2018

8:30 a.m. - 9:50 a.m.


Room 421, Cannon House Office Building

27 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

On Tuesday, the Family Online Safety Institute hosted a briefing featuring Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33) focused on the challenges and opportunities of our increasingly connected lives. The discussion examined the impact of connected toys on children’s play, at home devices and how families use them, and the connected home in general.

Representative Lieu spoke about his involvement in the Congressional Toy Caucus and his work on cybersecurity issues on Capitol Hill as well as his Cyber Shield Act. This Act enables a voluntary program which identifies and promotes Internet connected products that meet industry leading cybersecurity and data privacy standards, guidelines, and best practices. The Congressman also answered questions about how Congress can stay up-to-date with technological advancements, the technology backlash, and the role of third party reviews in device safety and security.

Following the opening remarks, Jennifer Hanley of FOSI moderated a panel discussion featuring Sven Gerjets of Mattel, Kristin Cohen of the Federal Trade Commission, and John Verdi from the Future of Privacy Forum.

Jennifer introduced the new FOSI research, published in 2017, “Connected Families: How Parents Think & Feel about Wearables, Toys, and the Internet of Things.” The research was conducted by Hart Research Associates and supported by Amazon. She highlighted a few findings such as the fact that the term “the Internet of Things” is not a widely recognized term by parents and that many families have children who own three or more connected devices. She also highlighted that parents saw the benefits of having a connected family because they felt these devices could be beneficial for education, special needs children, and that they could give children extra freedom.

During the panel Sven Gerjets, the Chief Technology Officer for Mattel, spoke about the creation of his role at the toy company, as well as how they work to ensure parental trust and child safety with connected toys. The future of play was also covered during the discussion. Kristin Cohen of the FTC confirmed that COPPA may apply to connected devices used by children. She talked about previous COPPA enforcement actions taken by the FTC, including a recent enforcement action which was the first brought against a connected toy company. She reiterated that the FTC was happy to work with fellow government agencies on this emerging technology.

John Verdi, of the Future of Privacy Forum, provided background on the different types of toy that were on the market, from toys that were connected to the Internet via apps and toys that were “smart” and hosted on an internal chip. He also mentioned the problem of smaller or newer toymakers releasing products that are in an unsecure state, which causes concerns for parents, lawmakers, and the toy industry.  

Verdi next explained that there are three types of devices. The first were “always on” which have voice control to activate. An example is a smart television which has a remote that you click a button to complete the command. The next type is “always listening” which have wake phrases such as products like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. The last are security cameras which are always watching. He explained too that there is an emerging problem with audio signaling and devices because there are sounds that the human ear cannot recognize, yet devices are picking them up. An example Verdi provided, is a device that listens for termites chewing on wood.  This device is not so problematic for consumers, but a device that is listening to what you say or watching could be.

The panelists gave an overall message for parents to do company and product research before purchasing anything for their children, and to be aware of security patches and updates that may be necessary to protect their children’s data. A panelist recommended opening a dialogue with industry leaders and government officials so they can work together on emerging topics in this space.


Day 1
March 6, 2018
  1. 8:30 a.m.
    Registration, Coffee, and Doughnuts
  2. 8:45 a.m.
    Welcome - Congressman Ted W. Lieu (CA- 33)
  3. 9 a.m.
    Connected Families: Toys, Devices, and the Connected Home Panel
    • Jennifer Hanley, Family Online Safety Institute (moderator)
    • Kristin Cohen, Federal Trade Commission
    • Sven Gerjets, Mattel
    • John Verdi, Future of Privacy Forum
  4. 9:50 a.m.
    Event Ends


Senior Attorney, Federal Trade Commission
Chief Technology Officer, Mattel, Inc.
VP, Legal & Policy, Family Online Safety Institute
Representative, United States Congress
Vice President of Policy, Future of Privacy Forum