Decades ago, it was a Teddy Ruxpin bear toy that “talked” with children through a tape player hidden inside.
Today, the conversations of children with certain Wi-Fi-equipped toys can be picked up via the Internet.
So how well do the nation’s laws, even those updated recently, protect the privacy of those children?
The federal government suggests there’s no clear answer, and officials may have to apply privacy laws to Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant, even though they’re not toys, because of their ability to monitor and get information from children, explains a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
The conclusion comes from a new legal sidebar from the Congressional Research Service regarding “Smart Toys and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.”
That was when the “Internet of Things,” common household items connected via the Web, essentially didn’t exist.
But, now, televisions, appliances, security systems, and heating and cooling systems can be controlled via the Internet.
And there are the “smart toys” on which WND has reported many times.
Most recently it was when a coalition of privacy and other organizations asked the government to set standards and crack down on such devices.
The new CRS report notes that the concerns have been raised before.
“At least one legal complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that certain smart toy makers unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices, without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent,” the report says.
That, in itself, violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was adopted in 1998 and since has been updated.
It also could infringe on Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the CRS report said.
The penalties could be severe for companies found at fault.
“Entities that violate COPPA and the FTC Act potentially could, among other things, be enjoined from continuing their unlawful conduct and face civil monetary penalties,” CRS said.
Just in the past year, the FBI and FTC have issued warnings on the controversy. The FBI warned consumers that such toys could “put the privacy and safety of children at risk due to the large amount of personal identifiable information that may be disclosed.”
The FTC said it was issuing a new enforcement policy regarding the application of COPPA to the toys.
“As the Internet of Things develops an increasingly ubiquitous role in American life, and a greater amount of personal information about children is potentially collected through such devices, it seems likely that there will be continuing questions about whether the approach taken by COPPA and similar laws to the protection of such information is appropriate or sufficient,” the report said.
Among other dangers, such WiFi-live toys could be hacked, “allowing third-parties to surreptitiously communicate with a child through the Internet-connected toy,” the report said.