Christmas is near and most have already started buying presents. These when directed at children are usually toys and the latest most advanced are usually the most attractive and the first choice.
This year internet connected toys were introduced on the European Market and though locally, as far as we know, are not available they can be obtained online. Recently, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) examined three toys Hello Barbie, My Friend Cayla and i-Que. The first two are dolls and are directed at girls while the third is a robot directed at boys.
In its analysis at the terms and the technical features NCC found that there is a serious lack of understanding of children’s rights to privacy and security.
The toys fail at several points
In their review of the toys, the Consumer Council has found several serious issues:
- Lack of safety
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. This lack of safety could easily have been prevented, for example by making physical access to the toy required, or by requiring the user to press a button when pairing their phone with the toy.
- Illegal user terms
Before using the toy, users must consent to the terms being changed without notice, that personal data can be used for targeted advertising, and that information may be shared with unnamed 3rd parties. This and other discoveries are, in the NCC’s opinion, in breach of the EU Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive and the Toy Safety Directive.
- Kids’ secrets are shared
Anything the child tells the doll is transferred to the U.S.-based company Nuance Communications, who specialize in speech recognition technologies. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties, and to use speech data for a wide variety of purposes.
- Kids are subject to hidden marketing
The toys are embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.
- If you do not want the toy, check if the shop accepts returns. You can cancel the purchase within 14 days if you bought the toy online.
- Not happy with the toy? Let the shop and the producer know what you think. This might prevent toys with similar shortcomings from entering the market.
- Talk to your child about what the toy is and what it can do, and what it means that the toy is connected to the Internet.
- Check how the toy responds to questions. The toys come with many pre-programmed phrases, but can also get answers from Wikipedia.
- Remember to turn off the toy when not in use, so you have control over who connects to the toy.
You may view the video about the risks of internet connected toys HERE.
The following are the two reports published by the Norwegian Consumer Council.