Privacy Groups Take Aim at Internet Toys

In what they are calling an unprecedented, coordinated transatlantic effort, U.S. and European privacy groups have filed complaints with EU regulators and the Federal Trade Commission over "smart" internet-connected toys, or what they dub "spy toys."

U.S. Groups filing the complaint at the FTC are Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Consumers Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The FTC complaint was lodged against Genesis Toys, the maker of My Friend Cayla and I-Que, and Nuance Communications, which provides voice recognition. Both Cayla and I-Que need to be linked to a Bluetooth-capable Apple or Android smart device to take advantage of their range of functions, the company says on its website.

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The groups say the toys propose significant security risks to kids and violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protections and FTC rules prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices. They want the FTC to investigate and then act to protect kids.

"Both Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent," they contend. Requests for comment from both companies had not been returned at press time.

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Formal complaints were being filed with EU regulators including in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and Norway, targeting specific toys, but also more generally a new generation of Internet of Toys (a $2.8 billion category) that use WiFi, Bluetooth and apps and have cameras, mics, and sensors that can "record and respond to children’s interactions."

"Children today are growing up immersed in a digital world, where mobile devices, games, apps, and now a new generation of internet-toys are profoundly shaping their social interactions, personal experiences, and behaviors," said Kathryn Montgomery, communications professor at American University and a consultant to the Center for Digital Democracy. "Regulators need to ensure that children will be able to reap the benefits of these digital technologies without being subjected to harmful practices that undermine their privacy, safety, and wellbeing."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.