Talking Toy Or Spy?

In terms of sheer numbers, Furbies present a significant force. More than two million of the fuzzy owl-like creatures have infiltrated American homes with incessant chattering that delights children and aggravates adults.

But you won't find a single Furby here at the National Security Agency, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr. The U.S. satellite intelligence operation has banned Furby - in essence, accusing the toy of being a Chinese-manufactured spy, a secret-stealing bugging device capable of eavesdropping on sensitive conversations.

The NSA, in this unclassified policy, reminded employees personal audio equipment is forbidden. "This includes toys, such as Furbies, with built-in recorders that repeat the audio...." its policy reads.

But there's a problem with the policy.

"Furby has absolutely no ability to do any recording whatsoever," says Roger Shiffman, who owns Tiger Electronics - the company that makes Furby.

Shiffman says he gladly would have told the NSA that Furby has no built-in recorder if anyone from the spy agency had asked.

"We know that Furby has artificial intelligence, we're just not sure what kind of intelligence the NSA is working with now," Shiffman says.

That's not to say Furbies don't present some threat. The FAA has banned their use during take-offs and landings, out of worry that Furbies, like CD players and laptops, may interfere with a plane's instruments. That seems like a stretch to aviation safety consultant Mike Boyd.

"I can just see the announcement being made: 'Turn off your laptops, put away your gameboys, and don't play with your Furby'," says Boyd.

With Furby mania raging, there is no shortage of fans who believe the interactive electronic pets are nearly omnipotent.

"I've been told that we're developing a Furby that can drive a car in the year 2000," Shiffman says. "We've also been told that the current Furby has the technology to launch the space shuttle. We have one woman who is absolutely insistent that her Furby sings Italian operas..."

But, none of that is true. Is it?
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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