Can Your Trust Your Children’s Toys?

FTC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

With advances in voice recognition and machine learning, we see an increasing number of products that implement some form of vocal interaction. Popular ones include Google Home and Amazon Echo, as well as smaller digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. Recently, companies such as Mattel have developed toys with voice interaction features for children, such as the Hello Barbie doll. However, with increases in artificial intelligence come increases in data collection, and with increases in data collection come increases in privacy concerns.

Parents and privacy advocates alike expressed concern over Hello Barbie’s potential to store records of intimate conversations. Concerns intensified when it was reported that the toy was susceptible to remote hacking through wireless networks. The latest companies under fire are Chinese-based toy manufacturer Genesis Toys and US software tech company Nuance Communications. In December 2016, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), along with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the Consumers Union have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about legal concerns relating to privacy in two toys, My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot, designed by Genesis with¬†software written by Nuance. The complaint alleges that the companies violate a 1998 law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), due to deceptive data collection without proper notice or parental consent.

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