German watchdog calls smart doll ‘illegal espionage apparatus’

The claim that smart toys by US manufacturer Genesis Toys also make excellent surveillance tools is in the news again, as German telecom watchdog, the Federal Network Agency, calls the doll My Friend Cayla an “illegal espionage apparatus” and advises parents to immediately get rid of it, according to the Guardian.

The manufacturer is accused of commercializing a smart toy that is not password-protected, thus making it easy to intercept the connection and hack the device. Moreover, owners can use voice recognition to get online and control the doll through an application.

The issues were pointed out by a student at Saarbrücken University who claims “hackers could access the doll via its Bluetooth connection from a distance of up to 15 meters, listening in on conversations as well as speaking directly to the child playing with it,” the newspaper writes.

According to consumer watchdogs, My Friend Cayla is not the only smart toy manufactured by Genesis Toys to raise issues. I-Que robot was also described as a possible surveillance device.

“I’m worried about the impact of connected dolls on children’s privacy and safety,” said Vera Jourová, EU’s commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality.

Last year, a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission accused Genesis Toys of using the toys to illegally record conversations which were later uploaded to Nuance Communications, a company serving intelligence agencies.

“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,” read the complaint.

German law, however, forbids manufacturing, selling or possession of surveillance devices. Anyone failing to abide faces up to two years in jail.

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