Horror stories have abounded in recent years about how those little children’s toys that have electronics embedded actually spy on children, listening to what they say and recording it, then connecting to WiFi and sending those personal and intimate family details back to a corporation.

Privacy groups have complained to the Federal Trade Commission about toys like “My Friend Cayla,” “I-Que Intelligent Robot” and “Aristotle,” which are “always-on” toys that hear whatever sounds are in the room.

WND reported only months ago how U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote to the FTC expressing concern that the regulations for toys and related products are not keeping pace with “consumer and technology trends.”

He said toys that spy on kids by automatically connecting to the Internet through WiFi can deliver tantalizing tidbits of information about their lives to marketers.

“I worry that protections for children are not keeping pace with consumer and technology trends shaping the market for these products,” Warner said in a letter to acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen at the time.

But nothing, yet, has changed, and now a coalition of privacy and other organizations is asking the government to set standards and crack down on such devices.

“Connected toys raise serious privacy concerns,” said Marc Rotenberg, chief of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Kids should play with their toys and their friends, and not with surveillance devices dressed as dolls.”

The Coalition is called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and involves a number of other public interest and privacy organizations.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” is the basic handbook on how American arrived at the point of being a de facto police state that essentially ignores the Constitution.

They point out in a new letter this week that it was a year ago their complaint to the FTC over how the maker of “My Friend Cayla” and another toy, Genesis Toys, “unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and share audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent, and fail to prevent strangers and predators from covertly eavesdropping on children’s private conversations, creating a risk of stalking and physical danger.”

It was the Norwegian Consumer Counsel that uncovered the problems and the government in Germany has banned such toys.

Retailers like ToysRUs dropped the devices, and Walmart took the toys out of their stores when a public interest group complained.

Amazon has taken no similar action, the report said.

It also was discovered that brands of smartwatches, Caref and SeTracker, “actually put children at risk – they are unreliable, data is stored unsafely, and they can easily be overtaken by a hacker who might prey upon the child.”

The coalition wants the FTC, and Amazon, to start working to protect the children.

Involved are the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, EPIC, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert Program, and USPIRG.

“Children share intimate details about themselves with their dolls and toys,” said CCFC Executive Director Josh Golin. “My Friend Cayla and i-Que are unsafe devices which put that sensitive information at risk. We applaud the retailers which have stopped selling these toys, and we urge Amazon to put children’s welfare first and do the same.”

“Neither My Friend Cayla nor i-Que Intelligent Robot should be on anyone’s holiday shopping list,” said Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA. “Parents should be able to count on responsible retailers and the federal government to keep products that threaten their children’s privacy and security from continuing to be sold.”

“This year, the state PIRGs added Cayla, as a representative of all interconnected toys and apps targeted at young kids, to our 32nd annual Trouble In Toyland list of potentially hazardous toys,” added U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski. “Parents and toy-givers need to understand that privacy-invasive toys pose real threats to children, just as toys that pose choking or ingestion hazards or contain excessive levels of toxic lead and other chemicals do.”

WND has reported several times on the controversy, including late in 2016 when EPIC, which has had concerns about the “Internet of Things” through which “always on” devices such as smartphones, DVR machines, televisions and toys are connected, raised concern about the My Friend Cayla toy.

At the time, the manufacturer declined comment to WND, but it boasted on its website: “My Friend Cayla is a beautiful 18″ interactive doll that offers hours of imaginative play! Cayla can understand and respond to you in real-time about almost anything. Ask her questions about herself, people, places, and things. She’s the smartest friend you will ever have.”

The problem isn’t, apparently, only with children’s toys, either.

Julia Lawrence wrote for the Daily Mail just this week about how she and her daughter briefly discussed instant cameras while window-shopping.

With a smart phone turned on.

Just 30 minutes later, an ad appeared on the phone about the very model and type of camera at which they had been looking.

“‘This keeps happening,'” she said her daughter reported. “‘This is no coincidence. Someone is listening to our conversations. Advertisers. They’re listening via our phones’ microphones.'”

She explained, “It is not illegal. Although under the Data Protection Act 1998, a person has to actively consent to their data being collected and the purpose for which it’s used, few people actually take time to police what they consent to. The terms and conditions and privacy statements you sign up to when you buy a smartphone or download an app are rarely scrutinized before we tick the box and wade in.”

She finished, “It’s not too big a stretch to think of this technology developed to sweep conversations as a marketing tool. ‘Smartphones are small tracking devices,’ says Michelle De Mooy, acting director for the U.S.’s Democracy and Technology Privacy and Data project.’We may not think of them like that because they’re very personal devices – they travel with us, they sleep next to us. But they are, in fact, collectors of a vast amount of information including audio information. When you are using a free service, you are basically paying for it with information.'”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” is the basic handbook on how American arrived at the point of being a de facto police state that essentially ignores the Constitution.


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