I warned you about creepy ‘Internet of Toys’ doll; now, German authorities have banned it

Forbrukerradet.no image. Click for December report from European regulators.

In December, I told you about the creepy coming “Internet of Toys” — and a hot new doll named My Friend Cayla that consumer groups warned could spy on your children.

This week, Germany authorities banned the doll and warned parents not to allow it in their homes.

“The Bundesnetzagentur has taken action against unauthorized wireless transmitting equipment in a children’s toy and has already removed products from the market,” the agency said in a statement on its website dated Friday. 

Items that conceal cameras or microphones and that are capable of transmitting a signal, and therefore can transmit data without detection, compromise people’s privacy. This applies in particular to children’s toys. The Cayla doll has been banned in Germany,” read a statement attributed to Jochen Homann, Bundesnetzagentur President.

The statement continued:

“Any toy that is capable of transmitting signals and that can be used to record images or sound without detection is banned in Germany. The first toys of this type have already been taken off the German market at the instigation of the Bundesnetzagentur and in cooperation with distributors.

“There is a particular danger in toys being used as surveillance devices: Anything the child says or other people’s conversations can be recorded and transmitted without the parents’ knowledge. A company could also use the toy to advertise directly to the child or the parents. Moreover, if the manufacturer has not adequately protected the wireless connection (such as Bluetooth), the toy can be used by anyone in the vicinity to listen in on conversations undetected.”

The German agency put other toymakers on notice that their connected toys would be subject to review, also.

Emails sent to the toy maker, Genesis toys, were not returned at publication time.

In December, U.S. consumer groups asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate My Friend Cayla and its counterpart marketed to boys, i-Que.

“Product safety is no longer just about a small toy that you are afraid your kid will choke on,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, at the time. “It’s about how the products are designed and what they might be doing with your children’s information.”

i-Que and Cayla engage in simulated conversations with children. They use Bluetooth to connect to smartphones and gain access to the internet.

“A child’s statements are converted into text, which is then used by the application to retrieve answers using Google Search, Wikipedia and Weather Underground,” the complaint says.

The toys are available from many U.S. retailers. On one product page, they are described as appropriate for children ranging from age 3-12.

“Via speech recognition technology, Cayla can understand and respond to your child in real-time about almost anything,” the page says. “She can tell stories, play games, share photos from her photo album, and can sing too. She can even help your child with their homework questions.”

The consumer groups — including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and Consumers Union — claim that the devices record children’s conversations “without any limitations on collection, use or disclosure” of the personal information.

They say the Genesis toys violate the Child Online Protection Act and the Federal Trade Commission should step in immediately.

Genesis Toys claims that My Friend Cayla has amassed over 1 million fans worldwide, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the toys ask for personal information, such as parents’ names, favorite TV show, school name, and home city. The Genesis privacy policy – only available as a pop-up when downloading an app — says all data can be stored and shared with certain third parties, according to the complaint.

The consumer groups also say the toys don’t employ basic Bluetooth security, such as requiring a pairing code.

“As a result, when the Cayla and i-Que dolls are powered on and not already paired with another device, any smartphone or tablet within a 50-foot range can establish a Bluetooth connection with the dolls,” it says. That opens the door to strangers in close proximity being able to use the doll to connect with the child using it, the groups allege.

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About Bob Sullivan 1318 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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