Hey parents, listen up! If your daughter runs into your room in the wee hours of the morning and tells you that she heard a strange man's voice coming from under her bed, don't automatically assume it was her imagination or that she received a special visit from the Holy Ghost ( we know how some of y'a'll black folk are).
And if your son has one of these dolls...well, that's another story altogether.
Seriously, parents are being advised to keep an eye out for the My Friend Cayla doll. According to BBC.com, the doll may put children at risk of having his or her privacy invaded, since hackers can use an unsecure bluetooth device that is embedded in the toy "to listen and talk to the child playing with it."
BBC.com also reported that, in Germany, the My Friend Cayla dolls are basically illegal (for obvious reasons).
This is just another chilling example of how technology can be used to inflict harm on innocent people, even children.
So not only can hackers eavesdrop on your child, but they can speak to them through the doll.
The risk of Smart Toy hackings has been an issue since January of 2015, and experts warn that the software has not been fixed.
The Vivid Toy group, which distributes the doll, claims that their product is safe. And yet the company and the Toy Retailers Association state clearly that keeping a child safe while playing with the doll is up to parents. The TRA told BBC, "we would always expect
parents to supervise their children at least intermittently."
Parents and watchdog groups are right to be concerned about these internet-enabled toys. Not only do they
have real privacy risks, they also stymie creativity. A doll that can talk back leaves little room for imagination, experts say.
This latest warning about the My Friend Cayla doll points to a larger issue modern parents face in an increasingly connected world that compromises privacy—in many homes by choice. Devices like Amazon's Echo and Google Home were huge hits the past Christmas season. While these devices aren't marketed to children, they are still listening to them—and you.
Smart devices aren't going away, but privacy protections are slow to catch up. Until then, privacy advocates recommend you go ahead and keep them out of the toy box.