Data privacy: Picking the lock on Pandora’s box
Columnist Lewis Gersh says the development of smart technology, which can surreptitiously harvest consumer data in everything from toys to televisions, raises concerns that the ad industry can’t afford to ignore.
“This complaint concerns toys that spy.”
That’s the stark opening sentence of a Federal Trade Commission complaint that a collection of consumer watchdog groups has filed against Genesis Toys and speech-recognition technology provider Nuance Communications. The complaint alleges that Genesis and Nuance “unfairly and deceptively collect, use and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent …”
The toys in question, including My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot, “converse” with kids using technology like what’s found in voice-activated apps such as Siri. These conversations are recorded and converted to text. The text is scanned for keywords used to generate, among other things, insidious product endorsements. Cayla tells kids her favorite movie is Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” for instance.
The complaint paints a chilling picture:
[blockquote] By purpose and design, these toys record and collect the private conversations of young children without any limitations on collection, use or disclosure of this personal information. The toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance and are deployed in homes across the United States without any meaningful data protection standards. They pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children in the United States.[/blockquote]