Watchdog Discovers Toy Dolls Are Recording Your Conversations And Uploading Them To Police

total surveillanceBy Claire Bernish

When giving gifts this holiday season, be strongly advised that certain toys will upload your child’s unique voice and personal information — to the same military and law enforcement database which helps authorities identify criminals.

Indeed, these toys — which could record any conversation occurring nearby, and also fish for specific information from unwitting children — constitute the latest in surveillance by home appliances and gadgets known collectively as the Internet of Things. And this insidious, extraneous spying has several watchdog groups sounding alarm bells in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

Genesis Toys’ My Friend Cayla doll and i-Que robot — Internet-connected toys using voice recognition technology to interact with children — can answer questions by converting speech to text and retrieving information from Google, Wikipedia, and Weather Underground, CNN reports.

But what has the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the Consumers Union on edge is that the “toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance,” in violation of privacy and consumer protection laws — and, worse, the nature of the company Genesis Toys employs for that purpose.

“Nuance Communications,” the aforementioned groups state in a complaint to the FTC, “represents itself as a leader in voice technology, including speech recognition software and voice biometric solutions that allow a search of the company’s 60 million enrolled voiceprints for a voice match from recorded conversations to be performed within minutes. Nuance markets its technology to private and public entities and delivers its voice biometric technology to military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies.”

“Both Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent,” the complaint continues.

Cayla and i-Que have slightly differing companion applications, but Genesis collects users’ IP addresses and both require downloading and connection to the user’s mobile device via Bluetooth technology. As the complaint explains:

The companion application for My Friend Cayla requests permission to access the hardware, storage, microphone, Wi-Fi connections, and Bluetooth on users’ devices, but fails to disclose to the user the significance of obtaining this permission. The i-Que companion application also requests access to the device camera, which is not necessary to the toy’s functions and is not explained or justified.

That Richard Mack, Nuance vice president of corporate marketing and communications, reassured the public the uploaded information is not sold or used for advertising or marketing purposes should be of little comfort to consumers wary of the perfidious surveillance state. Even so, Cayla comes equipped with pro-Disney marketing propaganda in references to Disney movies and Disney theme parks — the doll says her favorite movie is Disney’s The Little Mermaid, for example — which children cannot distinguish as advertising.

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Perhaps most notably, not to mention nefariously, CNN reports,

The Cayla doll also has a mobile phone app that asks children to provide personal information, like their name and their parents’ names, their favorite TV show, their favorite meal, where they go to school, their favorite toy and where they live.

EPIC and the other watchdogs have requested an investigation into Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications by the FTC and to have Cayla and i-Que pulled from store shelves.

“The FTC should issue a recall on the dolls and halt further sales pending the resolution of the privacy and safety risks identified in the complaint,” asserted Claire Gartland, director of EPIC’s Consumer Privacy Project. “This is already happening in the European Union, where Dutch stores have pulled the toys from their shelves.”

EPIC also notes this complaint is one facet of a concerted effort to ban such privacy-invasive and surveillance-laden toys from the marketplace. Last year, Senator Edward Markey and Rep. Joe Barton were joined by Rep. Mark Kirk and Sen. Bobby Rush in introducing the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2015 (H.R. 2734) to update existing children’s online privacy law to include greater protections for kids.

Markey penned letters to Genesis and Nuance demanding immediate compliance with strictures delineated in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The Internet of Things has long been a cause for concern for privacy advocates and delight for surveillance hawks, as predictions the surveillance state will be willingly welcomed into people’s homes through the convenience of interconnectedness prove true time and again.

However, while it might be one thing for hapless adults to dismissively toss privacy concerns to the wayside, to have the voiceprints and information of children as young as three-years-old uploaded and likely stored by a company with military and law enforcement ties is a whole other animal.

Claire Bernish writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.

Also Read: Pokémon Go Is Using Your Children For Walking Ad Revenue


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29 Comments on "Watchdog Discovers Toy Dolls Are Recording Your Conversations And Uploading Them To Police"

  1. Oh no! Don’t buy Beth a dolly, get her a smart phone, because they are private…..
    ~sigh~
    “newsworthy?”

  2. Parents; dumb and dumber.

  3. Privacy isn’t the real issue here. The Cayla doll app questions sound more like something a pedophile ring would want to know to better find and capture children.

    • Bythepeople4thepeople | December 19, 2016 at 11:30 am | Reply

      I am so glad someone else said it because I was thinking the exact same thing. After the DOD Boystown disgrace (reprehensible and horrific I mean) and all the cases of rape being reported now in the Boyscouts as well, it would not surprise me all that much if there was more meat behind that theory. Anything with wifi capabilities can be hacked into, just watch the Snowden movie and you will feel even less safe then before

      • Never fear, never feel unsafe, it only encourages them. Snowed-In is disinfo and so is the movie. Best to ignore both and live fearlessly.

  4. Um. The government has no interest in spying on toddlers; parents should spy on them.

  5. Busdriver Bill | December 12, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Reply

    If a home device can communicate with the internet to retrieve and answer questions, its a simple step sideways to record the whole damn house. We are waltzing into a trap of Orwellian consequences, gaily bringing the “Horse” through the gates. Can nobody hear Cassandra’s wailing?

    • Don’t forget ‘smart’ refrigerators, toasters, dishwashers, thermostats and on and on

      • Yep, outside control of those appliances won’t be far behind. Hackers and/or government can keep that thermostat on 62 in the winter to mess with you or ration energy consumption. Not smart to embrace this stuff.

        • And self-driving (“autonomous”) automobiles. Fill ‘er up, and it takes you to the police station for questioning.

          • LOL.

          • I’ve wondered about self driving cars conveniently crashing with threats to the state in the car ala Princess Dianna death, 13th pillar temple of goddess Dianna also known as the pont du alma tunnel.

  6. Busdriver Bill | December 12, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Reply

    There are several devices being advertised on prime time TV, right now, FCS. Wake up, you fools.

  7. Unfortunately, this has been going on for years such as with the “Barbie” dolls.

  8. How burned do you have to get before you see the evil being sown in every corner of your life? What is precious enough to snap you out of your trance? The surveillance is marching into your privacy at every turn. Your children are at risk and you purchase a pedophile surveillance tool on top of providing that child with the network to feed it? What are you thinking? The internet is a very nasty place in 2017. You have no idea the working of the network the government provides you to pay for do you? There is a reason tons of gear is being built to connect to the net through your phone or wifi. Who says it has to ask you for access? Suppose it does MANY things you would find wrong? Nobody is watching too close at the back end of these internet connected apps. Would losing a child to a scumbag snap ya out of your stupor? Would your wife or husband getting whacked do it for ya? What you don’t know about the evil men sowing these products boggles the mind… i would take much care if you love your family.

  9. I can imagine that the entrepreneurs at these toy companies don’t see any difference between capturing demographic information from children for resell and what Facebook and Amazon have been doing for years. I suppose Americans and Europeans feel outraged that the same technology that captures every consumer act is being turned on the universally deemed “innocent”. Someone is drawing a line in the sand while their head is still in the hole in the sand beside the line.

  10. First Samsung smart TV’s, then Alexa, and now dolls??! I really wish the general population would stop embracing the stealth surveillance walking through their front door. Internet of everything is on its way.

    It will soon be impossible to live in a decent home that doesn’t report to the powers that be when you’re home, how much power you consume, how much water you consume, what you’re watching on TV, and even how many calories you remove from your refrigerator.

  11. Unplug it!

  12. I, for one, am not afraid of god/God. I am afraid of the consequences of my words and actions.

  13. Don’t worry just cover the lens with black electrical tape.. Your TV, Cellphone and any other nosy cameras the force on you. Cover them up. It is your device so do as you will. I cut out the condenser mic as well in my laptops and cover the lens… No snoopy fun! Need to block your phone? Get a glass container with a sealed lid, put in and place on a soft surface to mute the vibes! Anti surveillance is a FUN sport Enjoy it!

  14. Just get a flashlight and a magnifying glass to root out those pesky stealth lenses. It’s never misses. Most modern lenses are about 1mm in diameter and have a purplish tint.

    • Thanks for the tip, I will have a look around and see if I can spot something with a flashlight anywhere around the box.

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