Goodbye Spy Toy: Germany Bans My Friend Cayla Doll

The trend of manufacturing internet connected smart toys is certainly gaining momentum. Dolls, teddy bears and other toys are now able to create a bond with the kids simply through their enhanced interactivity. However, the fact cannot be ignored that with blessings come bane; these web-connected toys are although seemingly very playful and helpful in keeping kids busy, but there are several other repercussions associated with smart toys. The most important one being that of surveillance and perhaps this is the reason why governments are banning these toys.

As per reports, Germany has banned the doll My Friend Cayla citing that it can listen to the conversations of kids and apart from responding in real-time to them, it also conducts surveillance. The Bundesnetzagentur or German Federal Network Agency, which oversees country’s telecommunications, believes that this isn’t an ordinary doll but a surveillance device.

More: UK May Approve Bill Allowing Spying on Individuals via Their Kids Toys

Bundesnetzagentur regards the doll as an authentic example of “unauthorized wireless transmitting equipment” because devices that contain hidden microphones and/or cameras and can transmit signals or data without detection are capable of violating people’s privacy. In this regard, kids’ toys cannot be overlooked, stated Bundesnetzagentur. This is why the doll has been banned in Germany since as per German law the selling and usage of any toy that can transmit signals and record sound or images without getting detected must be banned.

The abovementioned doll is not just sold in Germany but Australia too. Along with Bluetooth, it is equipped with internet connectivity, and it utilizes speech-to-text technology to communicate with kids. This particular feature has been criticized by security experts and German telecommunications watchdog officials as they state that companies can use the toy to carry out direct marketing to the parents or the child. The agency does not plan to take any legal action against parents who didn’t immediately destroy the doll, but they do believe that parents must ensure that their privacy is not hindered or breached with the use of such toys.

My Friend Cayla has been created by Genesis Toys and distributed by The Vivid Toy Group. The company is known for creating smart technology equipped toys and many of its products have been scrutinized previously for revealing personal data to not just the manufacturer but also to malicious threat actors and hackers since it has unsecure Bluetooth devices embedded inside. The Vivid Toy Group stated previously that hacking examples were scarce and only conducted by security experts but still, they would make sure that the app used with the doll is upgraded. Still, experts allege that the risks are there and there hasn’t been any upgrading in the software.

According to the UK Toy Retailers Association, the doll doesn’t pose or offer any “special risk, ” and there is “no reason for alarm,” however a privacy advocate group Center for Digital Democracy would beg to differ since its report in December last year identified threats possessed by My Friend Cayla and I-Que Intelligent Robot. 

In their complaint to FTC, CDD explained that both toys have been spying on kids and parents sending their data including conversations to company’s servers which are then analyzed and stored in another cloud server. That’s not all, in 2015, “Hello Barbie” toy was also criticized for spying on kids by recording their conversations and sending them to company’s servers.

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