An international group of researchers and consumer watchdogs have identified two children’s dolls that can be used to spy on us. Not only are they listening to everything we say, but a company is saving these recordings without issuing any warning to parents.
The toys in question, “My Friend Cayla” & “i-Que Intelligent Robot”, are both made by Genesis Toys - a Los Angeles based company - now named in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
Genesis uses 3rd-party software to power these dolls via voice-recognition software in order to get the dolls to ask and respond to questions, and this software is made by Nuance Communications.
Nuance, also named in the complaint filed by a Boston-based consumer rights organization, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, has been accused of recording everything said within “mic-shot” of the dolls and storing these private conversations and data for an unspecified future use.
It should be noted that this is a direct violation of a 1998 federal law called Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which was obviously designed to protect the online privacy of children.
The Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Josh Golin, went on to say, “Any Internet-connected product for children should make abundantly clear exactly who a child’s sensitive data is being shared with and for what purpose.”
The other groups which support the complaint are the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Consumers Union, the publisher of the well-known consumer advocacy magazine, Consumer Reports.
In Europe, the Norwegian Consumer Council has filed similar complaints in Norway, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the European Union itself.
Using Bluetooth wireless, the dolls can connect to a nearby wireless device like a smartphone or laptop using a software app. From there, the power of the internet relays information between the dolls and Nuance in order to answer questions, or just simply record the information.
If your child asks, “What color is the sky?”, his/her speech is converted from voice to text by Nuance to find the answer, then translates the answer back from text to voice through the doll.
In 2015, Nuance was named in a case involving Samsung’s smart TVs, where data collected by mics in the TVs were picking up audio and sending it to Nuance for translation, and that data was being stored, again without consent.
Nuance is also used by Vizio, which was just hit with a $2.2 million dollar fine for the same offense.
EPIC’s Director, Claire Gartland, said that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule specifies that all data collected from children can only be used for services for that child, and it cannot be stored anywhere.
She says, “Children aren’t turning their information over so that Nuance can spiff up its voice- recognition technology.”
Genesis’ toys are made for entertainment and do not have privacy and security in mind at all. A simple Bluetooth connection, found in many mobile devices, can be used to take over control of these dolls, record their conversations, and even be programmed to talk back to the kids using unsavory language.
In theory, a pedophile could hack the doll quite easily, groom it and gain trust through conversations, and even set up meeting places for a kidnapping.
Not only does Genesis seem to not care about this threat, but it’s known for almost 18 months about these vulnerabilities and has chosen to ignore them.
What’s more, and a little less sinister - but no less subversive - is that it would appear the “My Friend Cayla” doll has been pre-programmed to deliver oral advertisements from the Walt Disney Company.
We’re going to find that more and more of our children’s toys are indoctrinating them into becoming good little consumers.
All of us parents need to be diligent with our kids and their internet-connected devices, because the corporations that make money off of them and their advertising abilities only care about their profits, and most definitely not their safety.
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