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New York Post reports: Smart Toys Listening and Sharing Your Privacy

The New York Post just reported that listening and talking toys are being pulled from shelves at Walmart, Amazon and ebay.

The brand was Cloud Pets, but virtually all Talking and Listening toys are subject to hacking. Tech Wellness wants you to be aware that just like you'll see in this video of Talking Barbie, toys that listen and record you or your child need to be taken very seriously.  Your privacy is at risk.


When peeling back the layers of Talking Barbie, the product of Mattel’s partnership with high-tech company Toy Talk, we discovered plenty of fascinating insights and concerns about privacy and safety. In fact, late last year, before Barbie’s Christmas 2015 debut, a consumer advocacy group grabbed headlines as it made the case to stop the doll’s release. More attempts to gag Barbie spread through an intense social media awareness campaign launched by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). This group exists to educate parents and the public at large about the dangers of marketing aimed at children.

Their #hellnobarbie social campaign made big waves; and not surprisingly, Hello Barbie won the group’s 2015 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young children) award in a landslide, garnering 57% of the votes. That uproar wasn’t so much because Barbie could talk, but how she listens.

As we outlined in the video,  the conversations she has with your child are recorded and stored in a cloud for two years. Conversations that include chatter like this: “I like them with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Oooh...or chocolate with chocolate chips! Oooh...or red velvet with cream cheese frosting!! Sorry, I got a little carried away I guess. What's your favorite kind?” “Ursa means Bear... so Ursa Major and Ursa Minor mean Big Bear and Little Bear! Isn't that cool?” Huh? “Oh hi! I've got a camping trip coming up and I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! It's so much fun to have something to look forward to, don't you think” “You know, one of my favorite things to do is to make believe—sometimes I'm a doctor, or a scientist, or a singer! Do you want to pretend with me?” “Well, maybe, as a fun game, I could pretend to be a quirky new friend who needs your help. What do you think?”

*Actual recorded Talking Barbie statements from the TechWellness-generated ToyTalk account. Most of those seem pretty harmless, except that last one. Kind of creepy.

The good news is that parents can manage those conversations from the account they set up to make the doll work. Talking Barbie requires a WiFi connection via a companion smartphone app. Then, using the app and the Toy Talk website, parents can monitor the conversations their kids are having with Barbie. The data can even be deleted. However, according to the Hello Barbie FAQs page, cached copies of the conversations may “exist on a temporary basis after the account is deleted.” Ohhh-kayyy.

For details on account set and using the toy, click here. The Hello Barbie FAQs also state that the audio recordings are shared with third-party vendors who assist with speech recognition, artificial intelligence and conducting research and development. To review Hello Barbie’s privacy policy, click here.

If you want to know how to use the toy and understand its logistics, their company app will give you all the necessary links to get to know their privacy policy, FAQ, and functions. Note: The FAQ's state that the audio recordings are shared with third-party vendors who assist with speech recognition, artificial intelligence and conducting research and development. 

Mattel insists the data is secure, but hackers these days are frighteningly brilliant and very persistent. Another report, posted by Fortune, outlines the vulnerability of Internet toys. There are several examples of security breaches cited in this eye-opening read. BFFs vs. EMFs.

Talking Barbie is a dream come true for kids who want a best friend they can confide in with seemingly no consequences. That’s kind of scary in itself. But beyond the security risks outlined above, there are Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) to consider. With toys and all devices, EMF awareness and knowing how to avoid dangerous levels of exposure should be top of mind. And it’s as simple as putting some distance between your devices and you/your kids. Educating wireless users about EMF safety has been a passion of ours for years. And for good reason, check out this great article by Dr. George Carlo that among other excellent points, illustrates how children's brains are much more susceptible to the effects of EMF waves than are adults.

We've found an article from the American Cancer Society offers a medical perspective on the risks of Radiofrequency (RF) radiation (including WiFi, Bluetooth, and microwaves) in this must-read article. Last but far from least, another article we found that discusses the recent study on the effects of microwave radiation exposure on kids. Both--a must read! 

 Please share information with family and friends. The more we can provide the facts about smarter wireless technology use, the more we can help each other make the best choices for our families; and to practice safer ways to stay connected. Here’s to living safer in our wireless world.

xo. August


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