Washington, D.C. – Consumer and privacy groups are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and companies that sell dangerous internet-connected toys and smartwatches to act to protect children from serious safety and security threats they pose. One year ago, advocacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC about two internet-connected toys, My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot, which capture, record, and analyze what children say and respond to them. The complaint alleged that the manufacturer of these products, Genesis Toys, and the technology provider, Nuance Communications, 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. Several major retailers have ceased sales of the toys in response, with the exception of Amazon.
The advocacy groups worked in concert with the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), whose research uncovered the problems with Cayla and i-Que, in bringing the danger of these toys to the attention of the FTC and retailers. In response, Germany has banned the toys as spying devices, and French authorities have demanded information from Genesis and Nuance on the threat posed to children. Major U.S. retailers like Target and ToysRUs responded by stopping sales of the toys. Walmart informed the groups that it would stop selling the toys, but they were listed on the company’s website this fall until one of the groups, USPIRG, highlighted the dangers of My Friend Cayla in its annual Trouble in Toyland report. Amazon has taken no action to stop sales of the toys on its site, despite repeated requests from the advocates. The FTC has announced no action in response to the complaint.
More recently, in October, advocacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to act to protect kids from the danger of smartwatches which are marketed to allow parents to track the location of and stay in touch with very young children. NCC research showed that the watches, sold in the U.S. under the brands 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. These products also remain for sale on Amazon, despite the advocates’ request that the company cease sales, and the FTC has yet to respond to the advocates about their concerns.
U.S. groups calling on the FTC and Amazon to take action today to protect children from these dangerous products are the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 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’s 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,” said 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.”
“Products that connect to the internet are concerning at the best of times, because these products can collect data about ourselves and our daily lives and it’s difficult to control how that data is used by companies. Toys that connect to the internet and track and collect data about kids should be banned from store shelves,” said Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities for Consumer Action.
“The FTC’s failure to respond to our complaints is appalling. It shows how empty Acting Chair Maureen Ohlhausen’s promises on another issue to protect Internet privacy now that net neutrality rules have been rescinded are likely to be,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director. “Responsible retailers won’t sell these invasive toys and responsible advertising companies — unlike Google — won’t advertise them.”
“Connected toys raise serious privacy concerns,” said Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC. “Kids should play with their toys and their friends, and not with surveillance devices dressed as dolls.”
Jeff Chester, CDD, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-494-7100
David Monahan, CCFC, email@example.com, 617-896-9397
Susan Grant, CFA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marc Rotenberg, EPIC Privacy, email@example.com
Kristen Strader, Commercial Alert, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-588-7785
Ed Mierzwinski, USPIRG, email@example.com
John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog firstname.lastname@example.org, 310-392-7041
Linda Sherry, Consumer Action, email@example.com