“Smart” toys are spying on kids
“Some people consider dolls creepy enough, but what if that deceptively cute toy was listening to everything you said and, worse yet, letting creeps speak through it?
According to The Center for Digital Democracy, a pair of smart toys designed to engage with children in new and entertaining ways are rife with security and privacy holes. The watchdog group was so concerned, they filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 6 (you can read the full complaint here). A similar one was also filed in Europe by the Norwegian Consumer Council.
“This complaint concerns toys that spy,” reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys’ My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information.
Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways.
Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications’ voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while “most of Cayla’s conversational features can be accessed offline,” searching for information may require an internet connection.
The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to “ask Cayla almost anything.”
The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen.
The CDD takes particular issue with that app and lists all the questions it asks children (or their parents) up front during registration: everything from the child and her parent’s names to their school, and where they live.