A toy advocacy group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that two new toys on the market may be spying and collecting data on families. The “I-Que Robot” and “My Friend Cayla” dolls come with listening and recording capabilities and even prompt children to answer personal questions about their family. RT America’s Ashlee Banks has the report.
Over the past year, companies have been teasing the various connected must-haves for the holidays: bots that can respond to kids’ questions and movements, and capture audio and video; an imitation smartwatch that chats with other devices over Bluetooth; not to mention the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse, a pink-and-white smart house for the iconic doll.
Not everyone is excited about the intelligence creeping into kids’ toys. Privacy activists and developmental psychologists have objected on grounds ranging from security and privacy to fundamental worries about the nature of play. So should you be crossing these gadgets off your list? Or is this just a new variation on a familiar old song?
As it happens, Barbie was at the center of the last big smart toy brouhaha. Hello Barbie, perhaps 2015’s most controversial toy, could hold court on a wide range of topics – from fashion and family to dreams and paddle-boarding. “Did you know that butterflies live everywhere in the world except Antarctica?” she might say, before confessing in a less guarded moment to “daydreaming about cupcakes”.
The research claims that one in 10 British households (2.6 million) could be spied on through a webcam.
Two thirds (71%) want police to do more to tackle such crime, which sees hackers control baby monitors and transmit scary noises through them simply for malicious ends.
Kiddie talk shared
But the problem wasn’t her words, but that kids could talk to her by holding down her belt buckle. Every word Barbie’s microphone picked up was transmitted to a Mattel-owned server farm for analysis by speech recognition algorithms, to settle on a suitable reply.
Soon, details emerged about how those recordings were stored and some of the “third parties” they were being shared with. Backlash ensued. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a non-profit in Boston, launched the social media campaign #HellNoBarbie, urging parents not to buy the doll. “We were immediately concerned about the idea of a doll that was recording and capturing children’s conversations,” says Josh Golin, CCFC’s executive director. “It just struck us as such an invasion of children’s privacy.”
There’s nothing illegal about how Hello Barbies work, but you can adhere to every US law and still violate a kid’s privacy. That’s because they won’t have the experience to understand that a toy can’t keep secrets, and that whatever they tell it is accessible to an unseen team of engineers – or their parents.
Or hackers. Toys aren’t fundamentally different to any other connected device – at least not to their prying fingers. Last year, Hong Kong toy-maker VTech leaked not only the usernames and passwords of its 6.4 million young users, but also photos, download histories and chat logs. Baby monitors have been hacked, too, allowing strangers to peer in at children in their beds and even talk to them.
But not everyone shares the privacy concerns. “[Hello Barbie] is just as risky as Siri and I’ve told Siri some pretty odd things,” wrote an unrepentant 5-star reviewer.
After all, in a home full of connected devices, where do you draw the line? Maybe Hello Barbie is verboten, but will you let your kid talk to Siri, or Alexa, or any of the other new digital assistants? Those pose many of the same problems as Barbie, and maybe even a few extra ones. San Francisco parent Hunter Walk, for example, expressed worries that the Amazon Echo was teaching his daughter bad manners, because she didn’t have to say “please” to get Alexa to do what she wanted.
A question of imagination
So why do toys need to be so smart? For all the privacy invasion these chatting skills necessitate, Hello Barbie may not even be a particularly good toy. “I think there’s this idea that, in order to compete with screens, toys have to be more and more like screens,” Golin says. “But actually, given how much time they have with screens, I think what children need are toys that are less and less like screens.” He argues that the best toys are “90 per cent kid, 10 per cent toy,” with play fuelled largely by the child’s imagination.
That’s in line with what research has been telling us for decades about the evolutionary and cognitive purposes of play. Pretend play, in particular, is how kids learn complicated skills like divergent thinking, the use of symbols, even self-regulation.
Toys can be part of that. But with products like Hello Barbie, kids end up providing rote answers to preprogrammed questions, rather than imagining who the doll is and what she might chat about. “Play ends up being completely driven by the script in the algorithm,” Golin says.
But maybe smart toys offer a different kind of educational opportunity: they could start teaching kids the digital literacy skills needed in a “smart” world.
Meg Leta Jones, a professor of communication, culture and technology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, doesn’t necessarily buy it. “Being smart about the way we use technology is really challenging for adults,” she says. “The idea that we would expect this from a child is obviously absurd.”
Instead, as smart objects become more common, Jones would like to see us find a way to automatically signal our privacy preferences. That way, you’d never have to wonder if there’s a device quietly recording you, be it a drone overhead or a nephew’s teddy bear.
We’re still just figuring out what it will mean to grow up immersed in smart technology. The side effects may be subtle, as in the viral video of a toddler, raised on iPads, stubbornly trying to swipe the dead-tree pages of a magazine. And let’s not forget that adults have been whipping up moral panics about the degeneration of toys since the first child picked up a rock instead of the traditional stick.
While we figure it all out, my advice is to buy your kid a different kind of smart toy this Christmas – maybe one of the many robots that can teach even the youngest kids to code. Perhaps this will let your kid engage in the hacking equivalent of a time-honoured ritual of Barbie owners around the world: ripping her head off.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Danny F. Quest, is an artist, blogger, journalist, and media personality. Co. Founder of TheTruther.us, Danny works as a Freelance journalist and graphic designer for WeAreChange.org, author of ‘120 characters or less’ The guide to winning a debate in the Digtal age. Danny is also working on two documentary films, I love my country but hate what they are doing” and “30 days in Gaza” depicting what it is for Palestinians to live under Israeli occupation.
The highly anticipated 2016 presidential election has finally come to an end.
After months of rigorous campaigning from both Trump and Clinton, Donald J. Trump has been officially declared President-elect of the United States.
However, as to be expected, the ‘tolerant liberals’ have taken to the streets to violently protest and riot against this victory. So triggered by the fact that their paradigm of censorship, a sugar coated reality and their wishes for the continuation of a status quo government have been shattered.
The phrase ‘Love Trumps Hate’ has become incredibly ironic, given that the almost all of the hatefulness and violence has been initiated by Hillary’s minions harassing and physically harming Trump supporters throughout this election cycle, and only increased in severity since the start of the Trump protests.
When interviewed by CNN, a protester alarmingly went so far as to state that “there will be casualties on both sides, there will be, because people have to die to make a change in this world.” Clearly inciting extreme violence and exemplifying the intolerance of the ‘progressive’ left for any diversity of opinion. It has also just been reported that on Saturday morning a man had been shot during an anti-Trump protest on Morrison Bridge in Portland. Luckily his injuries are not life-threatening.
Hillary Clinton lost the election, and with this, the Democrats’ dream of a society which panders to a politically correct agenda and suppresses freedom of speech has been diminished if not destroyed. The countless tactics and lies told about Trump and his supporters failed to manipulate voters. The people of America rightfully distrusted the mainstream media, their polls showed Trump could have never succeeded, yet here we are, with Trump having won electoral votes by a clear margin.
In an article by The Washington Post on Thursday, Asra Q. Nomani, a female Muslim immigrant, explains why she voted for Trump, and rejected the lies told by the left to smear Trump’s name. Stating very accurately that we’re seeing a “liberal honor brigade” that is “shutting up and silencing people who disagree,” Nomani also stated that “the liberals and the left have really betrayed America” when it comes to addressing real and prominent issues.
As the results began to come in from each state, it became more and more evident that a Trump presidency was likely. States like Pennsylvania, with a history of voting Democrat, went Republican. Like we’ve seen with Brexit, this momentous victory for Trump marks a populist uprising against a system run by corrupt career politicians who have provided nothing for the citizens of America for so long. The American people have taken a stance against transgressing into a society of cultural Marxism pushed by the left, rejected a politically correct narrative, and elected Donald J Trump to be the 45th President of the United States.
On Tuesday, hacktivist Lauri Love won his battle against the UK’s National Crime Agency, who was trying to force him to turn over his encryption keys.
Love, 31, of Suffolk is currently wanted by the US government for allegedly hacking into agencies including the US Army, NASA, the US Federal Reserve and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are three open extradition requests against him, one to New Jersey, another to the Southern District of New York, and a last to East Virginia.
First arrested in 2013 on an arrest warrant from the US Love was not charged in the UK — yet he had computer equipment seized by British police who then released him on bail.
After his release, Love filed a lawsuit against the UK government to return his seized electronics (including devices which they were unable to decrypt), and in May 2015, he had most of his belongings returned. The government then served him with an order under Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, demanding that he turn over the keys to decrypt some of the devices — which he refused to do.
The agency seemed to relent for a while, but later demanded once again that he provide the encryption keys for the TrueCrypt software that he had used. Many believe that it was a retaliatory move for the civil lawsuit that he filed to get his items returned.
Investigators claimed that the reason they would not return the encrypted devices was because they may contain data that he “did not have legitimate ownership of,” such as files he gained through hacking.
“I won’t be assisting obviously, so it’s a matter of whether the judge appreciates that you cannot make someone’s ability to own computers and store data dependent on satisfying the police, especially when someone is not being prosecuted in the country those police are supposed to be upholding the law of,” Love told Sputnik News in April.
Love explained that there could be chilling and far reaching consequences if he was forced to comply. If successful, the case could have set precedent for journalists and others who want to safeguard information, to be easily forced by police to hand over their material.
“If the police can represent ‘facts’ in a colourful enough way to get a warrant, which is basically less effort than farting, then they can take and deny access to anyone of all of their digital equipment and media and refuse to return it if there are any portions they suspect (note, merely suspect, not having demonstrated or proved or evidence, but suspect) to be encrypted — then the property is forfeit,” Love said.
“This is a complete reversal of property rights into privileges granted by the state on the basis that they can peek at whatever they want and a presumption of guilt on any data that is not ‘comprehensible,’” Love stated. “So it all starts to seem a bit like an inquisition, which is kinda how the government would like to deal with hackers, but it’s not the way forward for society.”
While it has still not been determined if Love will get his property back, the decision not to force him to decrypt the files is being widely celebrated by civil liberties groups.
“The case raised important issues of principle in relation to the right to respect for private life and right to enjoyment of property and the use of the Court’s case management powers,” Karen Todner, Love’s attorney said in a statement. A ruling in the authorities’ favor, she added, “would have set a worrying precedent for future investigations of this nature and the protection of these important human rights.”
Love’s legal team has said that he could face up to 99 years in jail if he is successfully extradited to the United States and convicted. Supporters have lobbied on social media launching the hashtag #FreeLove, and using the slogan “No Love for the US Gov!” to speak out against his extradition.
The Transportation Security Administration is admitting their mistake and claiming that agents “did not follow correct screening protocols,” after they “humiliated” a wheelchair-bound six-time Olympic champion at the Denver Airport over the weekend.
Amy Van Dyken-Rouen is a famed Olympic swimmer who was in an ATV crash in 2014 that left her paralyzed from the waist down, she now uses a wheelchair for mobility.
On Sunday, Van Dyken-Rouen was at the Denver International Airport where she was subjected to a full body search, despite having TSA’s Pre-Check pass. She immediately took to Instagram to detail the incident and speak out against their actions.
“With the positive in my journey, there is also negative. Need to make changes for all in ??. @denairport @tsa pre check officer was rude, and in correct. Said every airport in country BUT Den is doing it wrong. Had a full body pat down, and was humiliated by him as well. Thank you STSO Keith Rogers!!! I’m going to find out if the rest of the country is wrong, or if HE is wrong. I’ll get back to you,” Van Dyken-Rouen wrote in the Instagram caption.
She also spoke to the Denver ABC affiliate and told them that, “they go around your breasts, they basically go under your butt and the just grab things, not grab, they touch things that are not appropriate and it’s really embarrassing.”
On Monday, the TSA released a statement that the officers involved in the incident were being retrained.
“TSA works closely with the disability community to develop screening procedures that integrate the unique needs of those with disabilities or medical issues into the process. TSA reviews passenger complaints, and in this case determined that our officers did not follow correct screening protocols when Ms. Amy Van Dyken came through the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport (DEN) this weekend. TSA’s federal security director has reached out to Ms. Van Dyken. The officers involved are undergoing retraining, and TSA Denver is providing refresher training to all of its officers as well,” the statement said.
Van Dyken-Rouen hopes that by speaking out she will help prevent the same embarrassment from happening to others.
“We can see everything you’re doing through our, window.”
By Alec Cope We Are Change
If you are reading this, chances are you downloaded Windows 10; and are rightfully disturbed. In all honesty, I did too (the Cortana feature was too alluring) despite the fact I understood what I was getting myself into: ever more intimate surveillance.
After years of research and a series of unpleasant experiences concerning the current child protection services system, Alec Cope decided to combat the cancerous corruption through information. Freelance writing articles as a form of protest and distributing them throughout his former high-school and local area, Alec struck special chords with whomever he was in contact with.
Alec has been involved in activism such as sit down protests as well as Idle No More gatherings. Being independent for the majority of his time, Alec became a member of the WeAreChange family to assist one of the organizations that inspired him to become active in the first place. With a larger platform and positive support Alec has committed the majority of his time to research, writing, and maintaining social media with the goal to continue expanding the awakening sweeping throughout all levels of society.
Growing up within a rural area in Northern Michigan as well as being a native American descendant, Alec is seeking to expose environmental abuse in his state as well as globally. A high-school dropout, Alec chases his passion for writing and empowering individuals while showing any isolated person that they too can overcome the odds with a community that will support them. Alec lives in the lower peninsula of Michigan near Kalamazoo.