|A My Friend Cayla doll in London|
in 2014. Germany is banning the
doll over privacy fears.
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
“Hello Barbie,” an interactive doll, is sold in the United States but not in Germany, where the news media has dubbed it the “Stasi-Barbie,” a reference to the widely hated East German secret police that infiltrated the everyday lives of Germans. Cayla is also being banned in Germany... The announcement reflects the growing concerns over “smart” products in the home that can get... too smart."
The Bright-Eyed Talking Doll That Just Might Be a Spy
by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, The New York Times,
17 February 2017
Cayla is a blond, bright-eyed doll that chatters about horses and hobbies. She plays games and accurately answers questions about the world at large. She could also be eavesdropping on your child.
That’s the stark warning parents in Germany received on Friday from the country’s telecommunications watchdog, the Federal Network Agency, which said hackers could use the doll to steal personal data by recording private conversations over an insecure Bluetooth connection.
The watchdog said it was pulling the doll off store shelves and banning them in Germany.
“Objects that have concealed cameras or microphones that can send information endanger the private sphere,” said Jochen Homann, the agency’s president. “The Cayla doll is forbidden in Germany,” he added, citing a German telecommunications law.
Mr. Homann encouraged parents to deactivate the doll, which is manufactured by United States-based Genesis Toys and distributed by the Vivid Toy group. “This is also about protecting the rights of the weakest in society,” he said.
The announcement reflects the growing concerns over “smart” products in the home that can get, well, too smart. A string of reports in recent years about hackers targeting and remotely controlling items like baby monitors have sounded the alarm.
Meanwhile, numerous experiments by researchers have shown how easy it is to hack into cars, medical devices and even dolls.
Germans are particularly sensitive to questions of privacy and data collection because of their experiences under the Nazi and Communist governments, when releasing personal details could be a matter of life and death. The nation has some of the strongest data-protection laws in the world, and it considers an individual’s right to privacy to be far more important than any perceived public right to know.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of object it is,” a spokeswoman for the network agency told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It could also be an ashtray or a fire detector.”
The restrictions run the gamut in Germany. For example, “Hello Barbie,” an interactive doll, is sold in the United States but not in Germany, where the news media has dubbed it the “Stasi-Barbie,” a reference to the widely hated East German secret police that infiltrated the everyday lives of Germans to such an extent that even relatives were distrustful of one another.
Cayla is already under scrutiny in the United States. In December, advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Genesis Toys had violated the rules on children’s privacy because the Cayla doll records and transmits the voice prints of children to Nuance Communications, a computer-software company.
Cayla and a similar toy, i-Que, made by the same company are Internet-connected and talk and interact with children by recording their conversations.
“These voice recordings are stored and used for a variety of purposes beyond providing for the toys’ functionality,” the complaint said.
Last year, Norway also found the products potentially in breach of its advertising regulations.
“It’s quite disturbing because the company reserves the right to direct marketing towards kids,” Finn Myrstad, technical director of digital services at the Norwegian Consumer Council, told the BBC at the time.
Genesis Toys has not yet released a statement on the German ban. Attempts to reach the company on Friday were unsuccessful.
Christopher D. Shea contributed reporting.