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An initiative of Google and Test-Achats

Talking doll eavesdrops on kids

Toys that children can talk to use speech recognition technology, Bluetooth, an Internet connection and an app. It all sounds hunky-dory, but nonetheless raises some concerns. As can be seen in this video from the Norwegian consumer organisation Forbrukerradet (well worth watching!):

https://youtu.be/IBrDmIgHb-0

Their research into the doll ‘My friend Cayla’ and the robot ‘I-Que robot’ brought a number of interesting issues to light. For example, it is extremely easy to take control of the doll using a mobile phone and to talk to the child from somewhere else and – worse still – eavesdrop on what the child is saying. The secrets that the child tells the doll or robot are shared with Nuance Communications, an American company specialising in speech recognition. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties and use it for all sorts of purposes. The toy is also pre-programmed with a number of recorded sentences promoting various other commercial products. Which is why Cayla talks so enthusiastically about how much she loves Disney films or Disneyland. Coincidentally, of course, the provider of the app has a commercial relationship with Disney...

Children in Belgium are already playing with this toy. Test-Aankoop expects supplies only to increase in the future and therefore is sounding the alarm now. The results of the Norwegian investigation have also been sent to FPS Economy and to the Privacy Commission so that ‘the illegal terms and conditions that accompany the toy, the way they breach privacy and the lack of security from the outset can be tackled’.

Neighbouring Germany has gone a step further by banning sales of the doll in question. Anyone who has already bought Cayla will be asked to destroy her.