Are our children being spied by their toys?

International cosumer protection groups are calling out internet connected toys for turning over collected data from conversations with children to companies without parent’s knowledge or permission. Are we now facing toy spies? is the question of many consumers, concerned parents and privacy protection advocacy groups. The complain has been filed by a worldwide coalition of watchdogs, and includes several countries, such as the United States, France, Norway, Belgium and Ireland. They are alleging that toymakers Genesis and Nuance Communications have committed several important privacy violations. They also state that what is really important is that parents are consulted and give their approval before any data from their children is collected in any way. (Genesis Toys uses voice recognition technology from Nuance Communications in My Friend Cayla and the i-Que Intelligence Robot).

“My Friend Cayla” is a doll that asks several personal questions, spanning from the child’s name and age to their pet’s name and their physical location. This information is then synced to an app, and exchanges with the child are recorded via bluetooth and sent to Genesis. This company then passes the reports to Nuance, who says it uses it to improve their software. The problem is that there is no information about this exchange in their privacy policies, and parents are now concerned about how this information will be stored and used. There is a similar problem with the I-Q intelligent robot, and the main difference is that this one also requests access to the smartphone’s camera, which according to the complaint: “is not necessary to use the toy, nor explained or justified”.
According to the United States “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” of 1998, parents need to give consent when it comes to data collection regarding their children, and the companies behind these toys have clearly broken this law.