BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Consumer watchdog groups are urging parents not to put certain dolls under their Christmas trees this year, claiming their little eyes could be watching families a lot more closely than it might seem.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claims the the My Friend Cayla doll and the I-Que Intelligent Robot “collect and use personal information from children,” not with their plastic eyes and ears, of course, but with the mechanisms inside them that make them interactive.
A Federal Trade Commission complaint filed by the CCFC — along with the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumers Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center — calls upon the FTC to investigate and take action against Genesis Toys, the maker of both toys, and Nuance Communications, which provides their third-party voice recognition software.
Nuance, a speech-to-text software company, also has contracts with military and law enforcement agencies, CBS News reports.
In the case of My Friend Cayla, at least, the doll is programmed to be interactive, and can have a conversation with a child with the help of a Bluetooth microphone and a mobile application on a parent or child’s device. It asks children about themselves, their schools, their communities and their families.
Aside from broader data concerns, the CCFC says the toys have the potential to place children in more immediate danger, as well.
“Genesis fails to require basic authentication mechanisms to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth connections between the doll and a smartphone or tablet,” Josh Golin, executive director of CCFC, wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
That risk is demonstrated in this video:
He added, “As a result, a stranger or potential predator within a 50-foot range can easily establish a Bluetooth connection with the doll, eavesdrop on the child, and even converse with the child through the doll.”
Similar letters were sent to Walmart, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us. They ask those retailers to pull the dolls from their shelves.