Internet-connected toys are currently a rage among parents and kids alike but what we are not aware of are the associated security dangers of using Smart toys. It is a fact that has been acknowledged by the Center for Digital Democracy that smart toys pose grave privacy, security and similar other risks to children. There are certain privacy and security flaws in a pair of smart toys that have been designed to engage with kids.
Last year, we reported how “Hello Barbie” toy spies on kids by talking to them, recording their conversations and send them to company’s servers which are then analyzed and stored in another cloud server.
Now, the dolls My Friend Cayla and I-Que Intelligent Robot that are being marketed for both male and female kids are the objects of security concern. In fact the Federal Trade Commission’s child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups have filed a complaint [PDF] against these dolls.
It is being suspected that these dolls are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) as well as the FTC rules because these collect and use personal data via communicating with kids. This feature of the dolls is being termed as a deceptive practice by the makers. The FTC has been asked in the complaint to investigate the matter and take action against the manufacturer of the dolls Genesis Toys as well as the provider of third-party voice recognition software for My Friend Cayla and I-Que, Nuance Communications.
The complaints have been filed by these groups: the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), Consumers Union, Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
According to complainers, these dolls are already creepy looking and the fact that these gather information makes them even creepier. Both these toys use voice recognition technology coupled with internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with the kids through answering questions and making up conversations. However, according to the CDD, this is done in a very insecure and invasive manner.
The Genesis Toys claims on its website that while “most of Cayla’s conversational features can be accessed offline,” but searching for information would require internet connectivity. The promotional video for Cayla doll also focuses upon the toy’s ability to communicate with the kid as it stated: “ask Cayla almost anything.”
To work, these dolls require mobile apps but some questions might be asked directly. The toys keep a Bluetooth connection enabled constantly so that the dolls could reach to the actions in the app and identify the objects when the kid taps on the screen.
Some of the asked questions are recorded and sent to Nuance’s servers for parsing but it is yet unclear how much of the information is kept private. The toys’ manufacturer maintains that complete anonymity is observed.
The toys were released in late 2015 but still these are selling like hot cakes.
As per researchers’ statement in the FTC complaint, “by connecting one phone to the doll through the insecure Bluetooth connection and calling that phone with a second phone, they were able to both converse with and covertly listen to conversations collected through the My Friend Cayla and i-Que toys.”
This means anyone can use their smartphone to communicate with the child using the doll as the gateway.