Security

Internet-connected toys provide joy (and surveillance)

A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture.

A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture.  ( REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

If you're trying to decide what to buy your tech-savvy kid this holiday season, it's probably best to go with something that does not "subject young children to ongoing surveillance."

That's exactly what products from Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications do, according to privacy watchdogs in the US and Europe, which filed a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission this week regarding the Internet-connected My Friend Cayla doll and i-Que robot.

"They pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children in the United States," the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, and Consumers Union asserted.

The toys and their companion apps, the filing said, capture a user's voice without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent. An insecure Bluetooth connection, meanwhile, allows anyone to eavesdrop on children and their dolls, creating a risk of "predatory stalking or physical danger."

The groups are also concerned that Cayla and i-Que are pre-programmed to endorse Disney products, an arrangement that is not disclosed. "For example, Cayla tells children that her favorite movie is Disney's The Little Mermaid and her favorite song is 'Let it Go,' from Disney's Frozen. Cayla also tells children she loves going to Disneyland and wants to go to Epcot in Disneyworld," the complaint said.

"Nuance takes data privacy seriously," Richard Mack, vice president of communications, wrote in a blog post. Company policy does not allow Nuance to use or sell voice data for marketing or advertising purposes, or share it with other customers.

"Upon learning of the consumer advocacy groups' concerns through media, we validated that we have adhered to our policy with respect to the voice data collected through the toys referred to in the complaint," Mack said. "We have made and will continue to make data privacy a priority."

Moving forward, the complaint calls for an FTC investigation of Genesis, Nuance, and other companies engaged in similar practices.

Neither Genesis Toys nor the FTC immediately responded to a request for comment.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.