These Toys Are Spying On Your Kids, It Records What Your Children Say

Your child’s internet-connected talking toys, My Friend Cayla doll and the i-Que Intelligent Robot are allegedly spying on them. According to a coalition of privacy and consumer advocacy organizations, the two smart kids’ toys may be recording and transmitting children’s personal information, violating laws in the U.S. and overseas.

The complaint states that Genesis Toys’ “My Friend Cayla” doll and i-Que Intelligent Robot send recordings to Delaware software company Nuance Communications. It alleges that they “unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the COPPA Rule, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act”. As it turns out, Nuance has other clients as well; particularly the military, law enforcement, intelligence and defense agencies.

My Friend Cayla and the I-Que Robot use voice-recognition technology similar to Siri or Cortana. Both toys connect via Bluetooth to a mobile phone application and then request for permission to access the hardware, storage, microphone and Wi-Fi connections on users’ devices. The complaint says, it doesn’t explain to the user the importance of asking permission which seeks a court order to stop the privacy invasion.

The conversation between the toys and the kids is recorded, converted to text using speech-to-text protocols and then via Internet, questions are turned into searchable queries to access Google, Wikipedia, Weather Underground or other information sources. Beyond just the voice-recognition capabilities, the dolls are also capable of asking some sensitive personal questions such as child’s and parents’ names, school, favorite TV shows, location, toys. This data is then sent to Nuance Communications, and stored in a cloud. However, Nuance fails to explain what it does with this information.

The allegation is that Genesis and Nuance are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by putting children under intense and constant surveillance without obtaining parents’ consent.

Richard Mack, Nuance vice president of corporate marketing and communications wrote in a Tuesday blog post- “We have not received an inquiry from the FTC or any other privacy authority regarding this matter, but will respond appropriately to any official inquiry we may receive“. He asserted- “Nuance does not share voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our other customers“. Genesis Toys did not respond to an SC Media request for a response.

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