Parents who want to expose their children to the internet of things should beware of a possible problem: Smart toys can be so clever that they turn into spies on your home. Two internet-connected toys have been called out by international consumer protection groups for turning over data collected from conversations with children to companies without parents’ permission.
A worldwide coalition of watchdog groups filed complaints with various data privacy and consumer safety regulators for the EU, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, and the US on Dec. 6, alleging privacy violations by toymaker Genesis Toys and voice-recognition software company Nuance Communications. Consumer advocates say parents have a right to know more about how these toys collect and use data.
Genesis Toys uses voice recognition technology from Nuance Communications in My Friend Cayla (which Walmart and Toys R Us sell for about $50) and the i-Que Intelligence Robot (sold by Amazon for about $90).
I-Que Intelligent Robot also uses a smartphone app that requests access to the smartphone’s camera. The complaint says this action is “not necessary” for the toy’s use and not “explained or justified.”
“By purpose and design, these toys record and collect the private conversations of young children without any limitations on collection, use, or disclosure,” the US complaint states. It argues that the toys subject “young children to ongoing surveillance and are deployed in homes…without any meaningful data protection standards.”
Genesis Toys’s 6,250-word terms-of-service contract doesn’t help, since parents aren’t likely to discover that children are being monitored and recorded, and that the data may be shared, without a lawyer who can wade through and translate reams of legalese.
The complaints filed internationally are based on a smart toy report commissioned by the Norwegian Consumer Council to investigate privacy violations in interactive playthings. That report also noted that Mattel’s interactive doll Hello Barbie won’t share recordings but may share transcripts with unspecified parties. Hello Barbie is made with technology from Pullstring Inc., formerly ToyTalk, which uses artificial intelligence to simulate conversations.
“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.” Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, told The Boston Globe.
Two Dutch retailers have pulled from the shelves the smart toys, which have likely already sold in the hundreds of thousands, according to an estimate by app analytics firm Sensor Tower. The US senator who authored the children’s privacy act, Edward Markey, is demanding answers from the companies.