Watch CBS News

Experts warn smart toys for children could be collecting user data that might be sold

Privacy advocates’ warning on smart toys
Privacy advocates warn about smart toys, urge FTC to do more 04:45

The cool, connected toy you may have gotten your child for Christmas could be collecting their data. Experts warn that makers of smart toys could be selling that data to advertisers without you even knowing upfront.

Katie Terramiggi, from New York, said she bought her daughter Audrey a Fuzzible Friend several years ago for Christmas. Audrey, now 6 years old, loved how the toy would connect with Amazon's Alexa to communicate with her. Terramiggi explained the toy speaks in a unique language at the push of a button — and then Audrey could ask Alexa to translate what it said. 

But buried in the terms and conditions was a disclosure that the company, Creativity Inc., which creates Fuzzible Friends, collects anonymized information about their users and can generate transcripts of what children said.

It's just one example of a growing trend, according to nonprofit researchers at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The organization's recent report said smart toys bring new risks, including microphones and cameras, paired with significant data collection.

"Having any data collected on a child that isn't strictly necessary is really reckless and unsafe," said RJ Cross, of U.S. PIRG.

Cross said that data, although anonymized, is sold to advertisers to create profiles of children, just like companies can for adults.

Even educational tech products can have privacy risks. The group Human Rights Watch analyzed 163 educational computer learning products "endorsed by 49 countries during the pandemic" and found that 146 of them "put at risk or directly violated children's privacy and other... rights, for purposes unrelated to their education."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to strictly limit data collection on children.

"I mean it's just a staggering amount of information that's collected online," said EPIC's executive director Alan Butler.

He said that information is used to track children's behavior.

"It's just not really realistic, for a parent, as you say, to be able to parse these legal documents, understand what's happening technologically and what's happening with their kids' data," Butler said.

The FTC declined to comment. 

Amazon told CBS News in a statement, "The third-party Fuzzible kids' skill is not currently available for Alexa customers, so Alexa cannot interact with the Fuzzible Friends toy. The device is not built by Amazon and does not have Alexa built-in."

Terramiggi says she'll be paying more attention to the fine print from now on, but doesn't think she should have to.

"I should be able to trust the toymakers that are putting the toys on the market," Terramiggi said. "You assume they're looking out for your child's best needs."

The manufacturer of the Fuzzible Friends and the company that once provided the connection to Alexa, Creativity Inc., did not respond to requests for comment.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.