Talking toys could be spying on your children

The talking doll "My Friend Cayla" is doing way more than just entertaining children — it's also recording their conversations.

A coalition made up of consumer advocacy and privacy organizations recently filed a complaint to the FTC claiming that manufacturer Genesis Toys and speech recognition technology provider Nuance Communications are using toys to violate the privacy of kids and their families.

"By purpose and design these toys record and collect the private conversations of young children without any limitations or collection, use, or disclosure of this personal information," reads the formal complaint. It was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and Consumers Union.

The two toys in question are "My Friend Cayla," which is a talking doll that can understand and respond to kids in real-time, and the "i-QUE" robot, which is described as a "quick witted, smart talking know it all."

The smart toys ask children for very specific personal information such as parent names, favorite TV shows and meals, school name and the city in which they live, the filing states. Both toys also take users' IP addresses in order to collect location data, according to their privacy policies.

The coalition is asking the Federal Trade Commission to take action, since the toy manufacturer is allegedly violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Section of 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce."

In this instance, it says, Genesis Toys could be violating both acts by not obtaining consent from a parent before recording conversations and sending them to Nuance, which the company could potentially use for marketing purposes. COPPA states that parents should have control over their kids' data and be able to access, review and even delete the data.

Check out the 10 most dangerous toys of 2016:

10 most dangerous toys of 2016
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10 most dangerous toys of 2016

Peppa Pig's Muddy Puddles Family (considered hazardous by WATCH due to the potential for choking injuries)


KidsTime US/Appease Toys: Baby Children's Elephant Pillow (potential for suffocation)


Slimeball Slinger (potential for eye injuries)


Banzai Bump n' Bounce Body Bumpers (potential for impact injuries)


Nerf Rival: Apollo XV-700 Blaster (potential for eye injuries)


The Good Dinosaur: Galloping Butch (potential for puncture wound injuries)


Peppy Pups (potential for strangulation injuries)


Flying Heroes: Superman Launcher (potential for eye and facial injuries)


Baby Magic: Feed n' Play Baby (potential for ingestion injuries)


Warcraft: Doomhammer (potential for blunt impact injuries)



If they read any privacy policy at all, most parents would only look at the toy company's policy, which states that audio files are used by Nuance Communications in order to improve the product. However, it's unlikely that they'll read the Nuance Communications' policy, which is more concerning. It states that it can use the information for "internal purpose to develop, tune, enhance, and improve our products and services, and for advertising and marketing." What's more, the privacy policies for both companies are not easy to find and are not displayed on the toy packaging, the filing stated.

This is not the first time that a talking doll raises security and privacy concerns. Last year, Mattel released Hello Barbie, which was marketed as an Internet-connected talking doll that could record conversations with kids and upload them online. However, the Hello Barbie doll only records when the button is pushed, whereas Cayla and i-QUE are on the whole time.

Another concern, the complaint points out, is that Genesis and Nuance's policies can change from time to time and parents would never know.

The coalition of consumer groups is asking the FTC to stop the toy manufacturer from doing anything that can be considered unfair and deceptive, which includes recording and sending audio files without consent. The complaint also asks to also offer " other relief," which could potentially include refunds to unsatisfied parents.

RELATED: Check out the 50 hottest toys of the past 50 years:

The 50 hottest toys of the past 50 years
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The 50 hottest toys of the past 50 years

1966: Twister

Who saved Twister? Herrrrrrre’s Johnny! The goofy board game where players are the game pieces was about to be pulled from the market when Johnny Carson and the shapely Eva Gabor played a suggestive round on “The Tonight Show.” Viewers demanded the game, and Twister (previously called Pretzel) became a game-room staple. It was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2015. Right hand red!

1967: Battleship

“You sank my Battleship!” This hit board game has its roots in a pen-and-paper version that dates to the 1930s, but most 1960s kids fondly remember setting up their ships on a plastic board, using pegs to indicate the other player’s guesses. In 2012, the movie “Battleship” was loosely based on the game, and sharp-eyed fans spotted a few game references. (The aliens shoot cannons at the ships that look an awful lot like the game’s plastic pegs.)

1968: Hot Wheels

Kids have dreamed of driving fast cars ever since Henry Ford made us put the horses away. Mattel introduced the Hot Wheels line of die-cast cars in 1968, and they’ve been vrooming through shag carpet and over ottomans ever since. They screeched their way into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2011.

1969: Lego and Duplo

The first recognizable Lego bricks were introduced in 1947, but it was in 1969 that their younger family member, the larger Duplo blocks, joined the fun. Now both older and younger siblings could build anything their imaginations could invent, and even more parents could join in the fun of stepping on a Lego brick while walking through a darkened living room.

Lego was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, and with the release of its hit 3-D animated “Lego Movie” in 2014, everything is indeed awesome.

1970: Lite-Brite

Lite-Brite came out in 1967, but sales really lit up as the 1970s arrived. Artists of all ages use the colored pegs to poke through patterned paper to form light-up cartoon characters or other shapes, or skip the patterns entirely for free-form designs. If that’s too much work for today’s computer-raised kids, there’s now an iPad app.

1971: Tonka Trucks

Tonka Trucks take their name from Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka, near the company’s headquarters, and it’s fitting that Tonka is a Dakota word for “big.” Tonka Trucks are big movers for little hands to play with, and they were also a big success, entering the Toy Hall of Fame in 2001. The classic yellow dump truck shown here has been hauling around Legos, Barbie dolls and other kid cargo since 1965. Their popular Jeep has been rolling since 1962, and Tonka pickups first revved their engines in 1955.

1972: Uno

Uno’s bright primary color scheme is familiar to families who’ve loved the fast-moving card game since the early 1970s. But if you’re a fan of something, anything, there’s probably an Uno deck waiting for you: Harry Potter, Hello Kitty, Doctor Who, Elvis Presley, “Family Guy,” Peanuts, Coca-Cola and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” are just a few of the themed Uno decks now available.

1973: Baby Alive

Kids are fascinated with bodily functions, and in 1973, along came Baby Alive. Sure, feeding her the specially sold food was fun, but face it, kids were more interested in the fact that this baby doll actually filled her diapers. Somehow, years later when 1970s kids had their own children, the novelty had worn off. Today’s Baby Alive dolls are so sophisticated, they can even tell their kid moms and dads when they need to use a provided potty.

1974: Dungeons & Dragons

When it first came out in 1974, iconic role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, with its dragons and elves, orcs and mages, immediately appealed to the fantasy-loving, J.R.R. Tolkien-reading cliques in every school. Now many of those D&D players have grown up to bring the game they loved into the mainstream, and you’ll find elements of its mystical, fantastical play in everything from video games to computer programs to blockbuster movies and TV shows. It battled its way into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2016.

1975: Barbie

Barbie Millicent Roberts is her name, and seemingly random job-hopping is her game. Barbie has been an astronaut, a flight attendant, a movie star, a veterinarian, a dentist, a fighter pilot, a paleontologist and more. Her looks have changed too, from a bubble-top hairdo with sultry downcast eyes, to a suntanned Malibu girl with tan lines, to the more modern and diverse offerings of today. Try to keep up, Ken. Barbie was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

1976: Fisher-Price Little People

Fisher-Price Little People aren’t so little anymore. Fears of choking hazards and revised safety standards prompted the company to make them larger, but whatever the size, these colorful little figures have always occupied a big, big world. From barns that moo to zoos, amusement parks to airports, the Little People have places to go and things to do. They were inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2016.

1977: Star Wars action figures

The blockbuster movie “Star Wars” flew into a galaxy far, far away (your local cineplex) on May 25, 1977, and by that December, store shelves should have been bursting with little Lukes and Leias. But toy company Kenner was unprepared for the demand, and could only offer “Early Bird Certificate Packages” that enabled fans to redeem them for the figures when assembly lines caught up. And catch up they did, selling more than 300 million Star Wars toys from 1978 to 1985. The Force is strong with this one. Star Wars Action Figures were inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2012.

1978: Simon

The electronic memory game Simon had perhaps the most glamorous toy launch of all time. It was introduced at none other than infamous disco Studio 54 in New York City, and became a huge hit. It starts out simple, tweeting a pattern by flashing its brightly colored lights. But the longer you play, the more complicated — and faster — the pattern gets, and the frustration builds. “Simon Says” was never this stressful.

1979: Atari 2600

Late-’70s and early ’80s kids were dazzled to find an Atari 2600 video-game console under the tree. There was a special thrill to playing Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Frogger without ever having to leave the house. Sure, the graphics look laughable to kids raised on today’s virtual-reality games, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this was ours. The Atari 2600 was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2007.

1980: Rubik’s Cube

Hungarian design teacher Erno Rubik started the 1980s off with a bang — even if the “bang” came when a frustrated Rubik’s Cube owner threw the colorful puzzle against the wall. Within two years, 100 million were sold. We’re guessing the number that were actually solved is much, much tinier. Rubik’s Cube was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2014.

1981: Strawberry Shortcake

Dolls kept advancing — they talked, they ate, they crawled. And then in the ’80s, along came Strawberry Shortcake, who … smelled. The sweet little doll was scented to match her favorite fruit, and her pals — from Blueberry Muffin to Apple Dumpling — all had their own scrumptious scents.

1982: E.T. dolls

Director Steven Spielberg’s movie “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” came out in June 1982, and kids fell in love with the sweet alien faster than you could say Reese’s Pieces. Sure, he was a little funny-looking, but his heart light shone through, and figures of him became a holiday hit.

1983: Cabbage Patch Kids

Here it is. The toy craze that topped all toy crazes. Moms and dads made the news fighting to get into stores to buy these lumpy-faced dolls that came with their own birth certificates and individual — often bizarre — names. Aw, little Igor Ignatius, mommy loves you anyway.

1984: Trivial Pursuit

Dozens of similar trivia games, not to mention a plethora of bar trivia nights, owe their existence to Trivial Pursuit, the hot board game of 1984, a year when 20 million copies were sold. Was blue (geography) your favorite category? Maybe brown (arts and literature)? The game famously made it into a “Seinfeld” episode, where George and the “Bubble Boy” come to blows over a misprinted answer (Moops, not Moors).

1985: Skateboards

Skateboarding has had numerous booms — the Z-Boys of “Dogtown and Z-Boys” movie fame skated empty pools back in the 1970s. But when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) traveled to school and Doc Brown’s garage via skateboard in the 1985 hit movie “Back to the Future,” skateboarding was hot once more, The skateboard was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2008.

1986: Teddy Ruxpin

Good old Teddy Ruxpin was the best-selling toy of 1985 and 1986, an animatronic bear whose mouth and eyes moved while he read children stories via a cassette player implanted in his back. The inflexible plastic player didn’t make him very cuddly, but in 1986 he seemed like a dazzling voice from the future. A new version, featuring Bluetooth technology, a 4GB hard drive and an optional free app, will hit stores in 2017.

1987: Care Bears

The 1980s may have been the decade of greed and Gordon Gekko, but the Care Bears showed there was still plenty of love to go around. The bears feature tummy symbols (hearts, flowers, shamrocks), each representing their personality. TV cartoons and a series of movies kept them popular, and they’ve been relaunched twice since their 1980s heyday.

1988: Pictionary

You didn’t need any real artistic talent to win at Pictionary, the board game where players try to get their teammates to guess what they’re drawing. Stick figures were fine, and creative arm-waving and frustrated noise-making could sometimes eke a correct answer out of your partner. The best artists were actually kind of bad at the game, they concentrated too much on quality over frantic speed.

1989: Nintendo Game Boy

Video games coming into the home was one thing, but the launch of the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989 meant your games could come with you. Nintendo’s NES system was already a hit, and the handheld Game Boy, with popular puzzle game Tetris included, made it portable. Nintendo Game Boy was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2009.

1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles combine everything a human teen could love: pizza, buddies and seriously sweet ninja moves. The four Heroes in a Half-Shell, as their theme song proclaims, have all kinds of adventures fighting crime in movies, TV, and comics, and it’s no wonder that their action figures were huge hits. The Turtles crawled back onscreen in 2012 when Nickelodeon relaunched the brand. After 2016’s “Out of the Shadows,” the quartet has appeared in six feature films.

1991: Super Soaker

If squirt guns were good, clean summer fun, a squirt gun that ups the ante had to be even better. Super Soaker high-powered water guns took the ’90s — and many soon-to-be-drenched younger siblings — by storm. More than 200 million have been sold, in 175 different variations on the classic model. The Super Soaker was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2015.

1992: Trolls

Every troll has his (or her) day. The original fuzzy-headed, funny-faced little figurines were popular in the 1960s, but they came back with a vengeance in the 1990s, dressed as clowns, brides and grooms, doctors, athletes and anything else you could imagine. Modern parents should dig out their troll dolls, whether from the 1960s or 1990s, because the 2016 animated movie “Trolls,” starring Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, is bringing fuzzy back.

1993: American Girl dolls

A hundred dollars for a doll? Dads of the 1970s would’ve snorted, but by the time the 1990s rolled around, many dads (and moms) were saying yes — if the $100 doll was an American Girl doll. American Girl dolls came complete with their own histories, books about their lives and fancy accessories, from bunk beds to horses and scooters.

1994: Power Rangers

Go, go, Power Rangers! The franchise burst onto the scene in 1993 with its first TV show, in which a group of regular teens are trained to “morph” into colorful superheroes — the Power Rangers — to fight evil. Of course kids had to have the action figures, which came in all the colors of the rangers, plus various accessories.

1995: Beanie Babies

These collectible, soft, bean-bag animals caused a frenzy when introduced in the mid-1990s. Maker Ty kept the different varieties scarce, leading to stampedes at various toy stores when an exceptionally rare breed was introduced. But in the end, let’s hope most of the Beanies purchased in the 1990s were played with, because as of 2016, few of even the most obsessed collectors made a profit on the plush playthings.

1996: Tickle Me Elmo

How could a sweet little guy like Elmo from “Sesame Street” cause knock-down, drag-out fights? The giggly little stuffed animal was the hit toy of Christmas 1996, and when stores sold out on Black Friday, shoppers became desperate. Manufacturer Tyco couldn’t keep up with supply, and Tickle Me Elmo should’ve probably been renamed Trample Me Elmo. Variations of the toy continue to come out, but none can touch the original mania.

1997: Tamagotchi

These teeny-tiny egg-shaped computers with the funny name were the hit of the 1997 holiday season. The hand-held toy is a pet-simulation game, in which an owner has to feed and tend his or her egg and raise it properly to adulthood, or it could get sick and even die. Seems like a lot of pressure for a kid to take on, but apparently they were up to the challenge, because more than 80 million have been sold.

1998: Furby

Forget Pig Latin: In 1998, the language to speak was Furbish, the mysterious jibber-jabber that issued forth from the robotic little Furbys for which every kid seemed to yearn. Furbys rolled their eyes and moved their mouths while they blabbed, and eventually, they even learned a little English. Parents, however, just wondered how they could get the things to keep quiet.

1999: Pokemon

Gotta catch ’em all! Today kids with smartphone access can play Pokemon Go, and walk around their neighborhoods catching Pikachus and Magikarps, but in the 1990s, it was a game of trading cards, video games and toy figurines. Some schools banned any mention of Pokemon for fear of shattered friendships over bad trades.

2000: Razor Scooter

It used to be kids mostly got around on foot, with an occasional bike, pair of roller skates or skateboard helping out. The Razor Scooter gave kids the power of transportation like they’d never had before, and they loved it.

2001: Beyblades

Think “tops,” and you may envision Pa Ingalls whittling an innocent spinning toy for Little Half-Pint Laura to play with during long, cold winter nights on the prairie. Not Beyblades. These are tops that mean business, and come complete with launchers to help them rev their way up to speed and tackle an opponent. A Japanese manga series helped popularize the toys.

2002: Bratz dolls

From their bold name to their cutting-edge fashions and troweled-on makeup, Bratz dolls were controversial from the beginning. And that’s just the way their owners liked them. Though the Barbie-with-a-bad-side dolls started off selling slowly, by 2006 the New Yorker reported they had captured nearly half of the fashion-doll market.

2003: Robosapiens

What kid doesn’t want his or her own robot, whether that’s a warrior or a dinosaur! Robosapiens can walk, grab things and vocalize, and a 21-button remote allows owners to execute 67 commands. A dog (Robo-Pet) and dinosaur (Robo-Raptor) soon joined the family.

2004: Dancing Dora the Explorer

There’s never been an adventure Dora the Explorer isn’t up for, or a puzzle she can’t solve. Along with her beloved monkey Boots and her handy purple backpack, the world is at her feet. In 2004, Dancing Dora didn’t just dance, she sang and spoke both English and Spanish.

2005: Xbox 360

It’s since been supplanted by the Xbox One, but the Xbox 360 remains one of the most influential gaming consoles of its time, and it was hard to get your hands on one when it first came out. Lines at electronics stores rivaled lines to get concert tickets or see the latest “Star Wars” film. Part of its popularity came from its Xbox Live online gaming options, making the sometimes solitary hobby feel as much like a community as the old days of hanging around the arcade with your pals.

2006: Nintendo Wii

Video games were often criticized for creating a generation of couch potatoes. Not so the Nintendo Wii, which started kids (and adults) jumping, dancing and getting exercise, all without leaving their living rooms. But players had to be wary while getting their workouts. Early TV newscasts showed more than one Wii enthusiast accidentally letting go of the handheld remote and fatally flinging it into their TV screen.

2007: ‘Cars’ everything

Lightning McQueen, the red sports car star of the 2006 animated hit “Cars,” quickly became the most personality-laden vehicle since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And kids wanted him on everything, from bedsheets to Halloween costumes — and, of course, model cars. His cocky confidence sent Lightning racing to the top of holiday wish lists. Little Red Corvette, baby you’re much too fast. Or maybe you’re just right.

2008: iPod Touch

The original iPod was a great step forward for those who wanted to take their music with them. But the iPod Touch took what its predecessor could do and all but said, “Watch THIS.” Kids and adults alike saw the snazzy touch screen so familiar from the iPhone and never looked back. Pump up the volume, and now it comes with video.

2009: Zhu Zhu Pets

Zhu Zhu Pets were priced at just $9, but during the rush to get them during the 2009 holidays, many sold on the secondary market for more than $60. That’s a lot of lettuce for a cute little hamster that can go into two modes — the cuddly “nurturing mode” or the investigative “adventure mode.” They’re also graced with some of the cutest toy names ever, from NumNums to Mr. Squiggles.

2010: iPad

It seemed everyone wanted an iPad in 2010, and kids were no exception. And why not? The tablet computer let them play games, take photos, shoot video, play music and pretty much do everything Mom and Dad’s laptop or desktop computer can do, without the weight of a pesky keyboard.

2011: Monster High dolls

Kids have always loved monsters and dolls, but not since the old Aurora model days have creepy creatures been such popular toy figures. Monster High is a high school attended by relatives of the classic monsters of old, all with different traits and talents relating to their famed ancestors. These are not your father’s horrific monsters — they’re so family friendly that Dracula’s daughter, Draculaura, is a vegan who faints at the sight of blood.

2012: Lego Friends

Girls had always played with Lego, but in 2012, the new Lego Friends line aimed right for them, with a distinct feminine focus. The five main characters, dubbed mini-dolls, were all female, and were more detailed than the traditional mini-figs. The settings and backdrops too were specially designed to appeal to girls, and included a vet clinic, malt shop and beauty salon. Girl power!

2013: ‘Frozen’ toys

Do you want to build a snowman? Well, if you did in 2013, after just seeing Disney megahit “Frozen,” you’d better hope it didn’t have to be an officially licensed “Olaf” snowman. Despite kids clamoring for Elsa, Anna and Olaf items, they were very tough to come by that year. What? Disney, the House the Mouse Built, failing to capitalize on merchandise opportunities? It happened, but by holiday season 2014, the stores were stocked and loaded. Most kids in 2013 though just had to “Let It Go.”

2014: Zoomer Dino

Kids roared for the robotic, trainable Zoomer Dino, who rolls around the house on his two wheels while learning the lay of the land. He can spin, chomp, roar and even attack (sorry, Fido, you’ve been replaced). But kids’ favorite actions might be the naughty ones: He can also burp and break wind.

2015: BB-8

Thankfully, 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” didn’t disappoint like the 1999 series installment, “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.” And even more thankfully, cute rolling droid BB-8 was way more charming than Jar-Jar Binks. Kids naturally wanted to get their Jedi on with this home robot version that can be controlled with a phone app. BB-8, phone home. Wait, wrong space movie.

2016: Hatchimals

For most kids, 2016’s most coveted toy, the Hatchimals, won’t be hatching until January. Maker Spin Master just wasn’t ready for the demand, and the Pengualas, Draggles, Owlicorns, Burtles and Bearakeets will have to stay tucked safely inside their eggs till the New Year. Once they arrive, they’ll peck their way out with the help of their owner. And while not every year has an impossible-to-find toy, 2016 has two: The Nintendo mini NES Classic Edition, complete with 30 nostalgic games, is similarly unattainable.


The post Talking Toys Could Be Spying On Your Children appeared first on Vocativ.

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