Smart toys offer kids a way to blend playtime with a technology lesson, often with an internet connection and a mobile app. It just so happens that these toys can sometimes get embroiled in broader disputes over privacy. After all, this is the internet, and not even toddlers are safe.
According to 18 complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission and European Union, Genesis Toys and its technology partner, Nuance, are under fire for allegedly storing recordings of children’s voices on a private server without parental consent. If true, the nefarious deed amounts to a gross violation of several privacy laws, according to Engadget.
The two dolls in question, My Friend Cayla and i-Que, both use a smartphone app, which children can use to speak to their toys in an automated dialogue. As The Next Web notes, the brilliant technology takes those recordings and sends them to a server controlled by Nuance, which then deciphers the file and creates an automated response for the toy to reply with. But, as the filings maintain, the recordings stay lodged onto Nuance’s server, even though parents aren’t queried for consent.
Nuance’s terms and conditions maintain that the recordings can be used for various advertising and marketing purposes, but according to an exhaustive report outlined by the Norwegian Consumer Council, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The group alleges that anyone can take control of the toy through a mobile phone or Bluetooth device, allowing someone the power to listen and or communicate through the toy, ostensibly to prey upon kids.
Moreover, the report claims that the toys are “embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.”
While still only complaints at the present moment, the FCC filings point to the grim fact that smart toy makers might use your kids as de-facto focus groups to better streamline their products. And that’s just looking at the bright side.
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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.