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Toys Accused of Spying on Children

My Friend Cayla dolls and I-Que Intelligent Robot toys are recording children and putting them at risk, according to a consumer watchdog group.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) teamed up with the Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Consumers Union to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the toy’s ability to spy on children.

My Friend Cayla and I-Que Robot, which are manufactured by Genesis Toys, use technology that is responds to person’s voice. The toys were designed to allow for a child to talk to the toy, and the toy would talk back. Behind the scenes, the toy would record what the child has said, convert that information into text, and via the Internet, the toy would respond back to the kid. The voice-recognition software program used to make this happen is called Nuance – a program that is used by the military and intelligence agencies.Consumer watchdog groups argue in their complaint that Genesis Toys does not obtain consent from parents prior to collecting data of children’s voices. And that is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, according to the complaint.

“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,” Epic complaint says.

The FTC complaint also argues that Genesis failed to provide security measures to prevent people from eavesdropping on children’s conversation and that “creates a substantial risk of harm because children may be subject to predatory stalking or physical danger.”

The executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Josh Golin, released a statement against Genesis toys arguing that children form personal relationships with their toys therefore, it is important the data that is collected “not be used for manipulative and sneaky marketing.”

The complaint also argues that the toy is used as a way to sell products to young children.

“My Friend Cayla is pre-programmed with dozens of phrases that reference Disneyworld and Disney movies. 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.”

COPPA requires websites or online services directed to kids under the age of 13 to give parents more control over the information websites are able to collect from their kids. The rule was placed in effect three years ago and provides additional protections and regulations companies need to follow.

The My Friend Cayla doll and I-Que Intelligent Robot toy are currently for sale at Amazon for $59 and $126, respectively. Released in 2015, the first My Friend Cayla doll sold millions of dolls.

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