German Officials Tell Parents To Destroy Doll That Records Conversations

Late last year, research indicated that certain toys may be collecting audio recording and personal information from children and sending that data to a company that used the information to improve the voice-recognition tools it sells to the military and law enforcement agencies. While consumer advocates quickly filed complaints with federal regulators in the U.S., across the pond, authorities in Germany are now directing parents to get rid of the “My Friend Cayla” doll. 

BBC News reports that the Federal Network Agency, which oversees telecommunications in Germany, has issued a warning to parents about the doll, telling them to destroy the toy.

The My Friend Cayla doll records and collects conversations between the toys and the kids, and then uses speech-to-text protocols to turn the questions into searchable queries.

A spokesperson for the Agency told a German publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the doll could be considered a “concealed transmitting device.”

Under German law, it is illegal to sell or possess a banned surveillance device. A breach of that law can result in a jail term of up to two years, according to German media reports cited by BBC News.

While this specific device happens to be a doll, the official says it doesn’t matter what form the device takes — whether a toy or an ashtray — it could still constitute a violation of telecommunication laws.

In addition to potentially violating German, and other countries’ laws, researchers also believe the My Friend Cayla poses a privacy and hacking risk for consumers.

Researchers claim that the devices are easily hacked to either intercept data or to turn the toys into remote listening devices.

Additionally, in the U.S., a number of groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that Genesis Toys, a company that manufactures interactive and robotic toys, and Nuance Communications, which supplies the voice-parsing services for these toys, are running afoul of rules that protect children’s privacy and prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices.

The coalition — made up of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and our colleagues at Consumers Union — petitioned the FTC to investigate the My Friend Cayla and the i-Que Intelligent Robot and put an end to these practices.

So far, the Verge reports, the FTC has not taken action against the doll.

Similar complaints have been filed with the European Union, BBC News reports, noting that the commission is investigating whether the doll and others like it breach EU data protection safeguards.