Last year's Hello Barbie chatbot toy sent all your kid's speech to cloud servers operated by Mattel and its tech partner, but only when your kid held down Barbie's listen button -- new chatbot toys like My Friend Cayla and the i-Que Intelligent Robot are in constant listening mode -- as is your "OK Google" enabled phone, your Alexa-enabled home mic, and your Siri-enabled Ios device -- and everything that is uttered in mic range is transmitted to Nuance, a company that makes text-to-speech tech (you probably know them through their Dragon-branded tools), and contracts to the US military.
In a new FTC complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and Consumers Union argues that the toys license-agreements and cloud-based listening violate a variety of laws, especially laws protecting children from online data-collection. The way that the manufacturers try to finesse this is really laughable -- as in I snorted aloud when I read it.
It also says “you should look at the website regularly to check,” if anything has been updated which, as the complaint points out, is pretty useless when the terms of service aren’t viewable on the website to begin with.
Even if you can by some miracle read the terms of service, the complaint points out, it’s still not in line with what COPPA actually requires.
The app does specify that “as required by law, parental approval is required for the download of the App by any persons who are under 13 years old.”
Complaint and Request for Investigation, Injunction, and Other Relief Submitted by The Electronic Privacy Information Center The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood The Center for Digital Democracy Consumers Union [PDF]
These Toys Don’t Just Listen To Your Kid; They Send What They Hear To A Defense Contractor [Kate Cox/Consumerist]