Juan BuisDigital Culture Reporter
Juan Buis is TNW's Digital Culture Reporter, and you should click here. Juan Buis is TNW's Digital Culture Reporter, and you should click here.
According to the Norwegian consumer counsil Forbrukerrådet, some high-tech toys created by U.S.-based manufacturer Genesis Toys are hazardous to children’s privacy, and warranted a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union.
The toys in question are My Friend Cayla and i-Que, and they have one thing in common — a smartphone app that allows kids to talk to their toy and have it respond to what they say. Even though it appears that all communication stays between the app and the product, it actually gets sent to a remote server in the United States, without asking for the user’s permission first.
The technological trickery that makes the voice recognition possible is provided by Nuance, the same company that’s responsible for Siri’s language processing and Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
To correctly decipher the voice recording, an audio file is sent to Nuance’s server, where it’s processed in a matter of milliseconds. A response is immediately generated and sent to the toy, which then replies to the user.
According to Forbrukkerraådet, parents setting up the product aren’t notified that their kids’ voices are sent to Nuance, which are then free to use the recordings. According to Nuance’s Terms of Service, the data can be used for advertising and marketing, and shared to third parties.
Ironically, the website for My Friend Cayla includes a page about how kids are guaranteed to be safe while playing with the toy, and features a ‘Kid Safe Internet’ mark that’s also prominently featured on its packaging.
Both toys are sold in various markets worldwide, including the US by retailers like Amazon, but are already being pulled from store shelves after the allegations.
Talking to Nu.nl, the two biggest Dutch toy retailers Intertoys and Bart Smit confirmed that they are stopping sales of My Friend Cayla, the only one sold in the country, as a precautional measure. Any bought toys can be returned to the store in exchange for a full refund.
To make the whole story even weirder, the Dutch packaging of My Friend Cayla reads ‘I know so much about you’ (Ik weet zoveel van jou). Creepy.
We’ve reached out to Genesis Toys for comment, and will update the article with their answer.
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