The Information and Technology Age is exciting for all the helpful changes it has delivered to consumers to make our lives much easier. But with it has come something terrible: The loss of privacy and the ability for Big Brother to keep an eye on all of us 24/7/365—and often in sinister ways.
Consumer watchdog groups say that increasingly sophisticated children’s toys come with the dual ability to spy on families, in essence. As CNN reports, there are a number of children’s dolls that have such capability.
The groups say that two items manufactured by Genesis Toys record conversations, further claiming that the recordings then are uploaded to Nuance Communications, a voice technology company that has as some of its clients the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and law enforcement.
The consumer watchdogs—the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC); the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood; the Center for Digital Democracy; and the Consumers Union—have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in reference to two toys, the My Friend Cayla doll and the i-Que robot. The groups say that the “toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance” while violating privacy and consumer protection statutes.
The complaint adds: “Both Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent.”
The potential for such devices to be misused is huge
CNN reported further that the two toys are connected to the Internet and allow children to talk to and interact with them. When a child asks one of the toys a question, his or her words are recorded and then converted into text so that answers can be obtained from Google, Wikipedia and Weather Underground. Then those voice recordings are summarily uploaded to Nuance, which is a voice recognition technology.
EPIC and the other consumer groups also state that Nuance then uses the recordings it surreptitiously obtains in order to improve products that it then sells to the Pentagon, the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies. One specific product—Nuance Identifier—works like voice recognition, helping security and intelligence officials search a database of millions of recordings so they can identify criminals by their voices.
The company’s VP of corporate marketing and communications, Richard Mack, told CNN that his firm does not use or sell the voice data collected for any marketing or advertising purposes—as if that is what matters most to unsuspecting parents.
He added that he had not yet received any inquiry from the FTC but that the company would cooperate and respond should that happen.
Toys certainly are not the only products being connected to the “Internet of things” that have privacy advocates worried.
24/7 privacy abuse
As Natural News has reported, consumer groups have also expressed concern over devices like Amazon’s “Echo,” which again is always online and is always listening for the sound of the owner’s voice. Like the dolls, Echo also uses voice recognition to invade privacy, and EPIC, among others, has also been opposed to the devices because they can be so readily misused.
“We are on the trajectory of a future filled with voice-assisted apps and voice-assisted devices,” Forrester Research analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo told the AP. “This is going to require finding the fine balance between creating a really great user experience and something that’s creepy.”
Such devices—toys, ‘household products’ like Echo, and even our “Internet of Things” appliances—can all be secretly tasked by spy agencies, law enforcement or just hackers in order to eavesdrop on our conversations. Besides a blatant violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment privacy protections, our inner most thoughts, secrets, passwords and other closely-held information will be at constant risk of being exposed and/or stolen.
And in the case of the two dolls, that would include abusing the privacy of our children.