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“Smart” toys are spying on kids

Emphasis added:

“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.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

CIA-backed surveillance software marketed to public schools

“Conrey said the district simply wanted to keep its students safe. “It was really just about student safety; if we could try to head off any potential dangerous situations, we thought it might be worth it,” he said.

“An online surveillance tool that enabled hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agencies to track and collect information on social media users was also marketed for use in American public schools, the Daily Dot has learned.

Geofeedia sold surveillance software typically bought by police to a high school in a northern Chicago suburb, less than 50 miles from where the company was founded in 2011. An Illinois school official confirmed the purchase of the software by phone on Monday.

Ultimately, the school found little use for the platform, which was operated by police liaison stationed on school grounds, and chose not to renew its subscription after the first year, citing cost and a lack of actionable information. “A lot of kids that were posting stuff that we most wanted, they weren’t doing the geo-tagging or making it public,” Conrey said. “We weren’t really seeing a lot there.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Parents are worried the Amazon Echo is conditioning their kids to be rude

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.

For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.

“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”

It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

“How entitled children are making their parents’ lives hell”

“Sons are smashing windows, furious they’re asked to stop playing computer games. Doors are hanging off hinges having been slammed so hard in a fit of pique. Teenagers are holding knives to their mother’s throat, or threatening to kill themselves.

This is the pointy end of entitlement, the defining characteristic of this generation of children.

[…]

Mental health issues predicted

Kids who grow up insulated from difficulty and disappointment are also likely to struggle in adulthood if they don’t get into their first preference for uni, miss out on a job, or are dumped by the love of their life.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Another surveillance app for parents

“When Matthew Whisker picks his children up from their north shore childcare centre he doesn’t automatically have to ask how their day went – he already knows.

The Neutral Bay father has an app which alerts him to the daily activities and achievements of his children Harry, 11 months, and Lulu, five, almost immediately via his smart phone.

The app is being trialled in three Sydney centres operated by Only About Children, with plans to roll it out more widely later this year. Victoria’s Woodland Education has developed a similar app which also alerts parents to the real-time minutiae and milestones of their children’s lives, including what they had for lunch and if they soiled their nappies.

But experts have questioned whether young children need to have their lives documented in such detail and how it might affect normal interactions between parents, kids and carers.

Only About Children’s chief operations officer, Kathryn Hutchins, said the group, which has 31 centres in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, developed the app in response to parental demand.

‘‘We want to capture the moments working parents may want to see but don’t have the opportunity to because they are at work,’’ she said. ‘‘For example, if your child is just learning to walk, there will be a photo that shows that activity.’’

Educators carry a small handset tablet, photographing the children and writing short descriptions of what they are doing before uploading the content. The parent then gets a push notification, alerting them to the status update.”