Sen. Warner Praises FTC Guidance on Smart Toys

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) is applauding the Federal Trade Commission for clarifying that internet-connected toys have to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which means parents have to consent to any information from kids under 13 collected or shared via the toys.

Warner had written acting FTC chairman Maureen Ohlhausen following instances of children's data being hacked through apps and smart toys, and had asked for some clarity.

In a letter to Warner dated June 22, Ohlhausen said she shared his concern about protecting personal information collected from children, and that when companies do so surreptitiously, it is a real harm, not a speculative one.

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The letter included specific clarifications based on a series of questions posed by Warner as well as the confirmation by Ohlhausen that "we have updated our explicitly state that COPPA covers connected toys and other IoT devices."

“I am pleased that the FTC has recognized that parents and consumers need to understand the ways that internet-connected smart toys can transmit and store user data about their kids,” Warner said. “Smart toys provide great opportunities for kids to learn and play, and it is critically important that the FTC is not just shrugging-off legitimate privacy and security concerns.”

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She would not say whether the FTC has taken any action against Genesis Toys or My Friend Cayla, one of the toys Warner had asked the FTC about in his request for some explanations about hacks as well as alleged deception and improper collection and use of information.

Last fall, U.S. and European privacy groups filed complaints with EU regulators and the Federal Trade Commission over "smart" internet-connected toys, or what they dub "spy toys."

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.

(Photo via Sen. Mark Warner’s Flickr. The image was taken on June 4, 2015 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 16x9 aspect ratio.)

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.