‘Spy’ toys face com­plaints from EU, US watch­dogs

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

EU and US con­sumer watch­dogs an­nounced yes­ter­day they are fil­ing com­plaints against a clutch of smart toys that can “spy” on chil­dren and their homes, for allegedly breach­ing pri­vacy and data pro­tec­tion laws. The com­plaints tar­get smart toys My Friend Cayla, i-QUE In­tel­li­gent Ro­bot and Hello Bar­bie, ac­cord­ing to the Euro­pean Con­sumer Or­gan­i­sa­tion BEUC and US groups like the Elec­tronic Pri­vacy In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter (EPIC).

Com­plaints are be­ing filed with French and other Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties as well as the US Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion. In­ter­net-con­nected Cayla and iQUE, man­u­fac­tured by Los An­ge­les-based Ge­n­e­sis Toys, hook up with a user via a phone or tablet while Hello Bar­bie links to the in­ter­net through WiFi, said the con­sul­tancy Bou­vet on be­half of the Nor­we­gian Con­sumer Coun­cil. Hello Bar­bie is not sold in Europe.

“By pur­pose and de­sign, these toys record and col­lect the pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions of young chil­dren with­out any lim­i­ta­tions on col­lec­tion, use, or dis­clo­sure of this per­sonal in­for­ma­tion,” EPIC and other US watch­dogs said in their com­plaint, which they say “con­cerns toys that spy”. “The toys sub­ject young chil­dren to on­go­ing sur­veil­lance and are de­ployed in homes across the United States with­out any mean­ing­ful data pro­tec­tion stan­dards,” they said.

“They pose an im­mi­nent and im­me­di­ate threat to the safety and se­cu­rity of chil­dren in the United States,” they added. BEUC, cit­ing the study com­mis­sioned by the Nor­we­gian Con­sumer Coun­cil, ex­pressed se­cu­rity con­cerns. “With sim­ple steps, any­one can take con­trol of the toys through a mo­bile phone. This makes it pos­si­ble to talk and lis­ten through the toy with­out hav­ing phys­i­cal ac­cess to the toy,” it added.

It al­leged the terms breach the EU Un­fair Con­tract Terms Di­rec­tive and the EU Data Pro­tec­tion Di­rec­tive and pos­si­bly the Toy Safety Di­rec­tive. “Any­thing the child tells the doll is trans­ferred to the US-based com­pany Nu­ance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, who spe­cialises in speech recog­ni­tion tech­nolo­gies,” it said. “The com­pany re­serves the right to share this in­for­ma­tion with other third par­ties, and to use speech data for a wide va­ri­ety of pur­poses,” it said. “The toys are em­bed­ded with pre-pro­grammed phrases, where they en­dorse dif­fer­ent com­mer­cial prod­ucts,” BEUC said.

EPIC and the other US groups like The Cam­paign for a Com­mer­cial Free Child­hood urged the trade com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate the col­lec­tion, use and dis­clo­sure of the data. They called for the body to halt Ge­n­e­sis’ al­leged fail­ure to give enough no­tice of its in­for­ma­tion practices and stop its re­ten­tion and use of chil­dren’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. They also asked the com­mis­sion to halt Ge­n­e­sis’ fail­ure to use “rea­son­able se­cu­rity mea­sures” for blue­tooth con­nec­tions for Cayla and iQue. They urged the body to in­ves­ti­gate and pre­vent US-based Nu­ance from us­ing chil­dren’s speech data to im­prove prod­ucts and ser­vices sold to mil­i­tary, gov­ern­ment and law en­force­ment agen­cies. — AFP

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