Dolls have been used by children for centuries. They’re good companions and even pose as a good listener. However, this doll might be a little too good at listening. Good enough to ban her from Germany under suspicion of being a device of espionage. German regulators have found suspicion in the seemingly harmless doll called My Friend Cayla.
It’s said that the doll is able to share what it hears. This means the doll could be taken over by a third party. The doll has recently been banned in Germany. The president, Jochen Homann, of the Germany’s Federal Network Agency, which is also called the Bundessnetzagentur, announced this recently. Homann’s agency has the job of overlooking all electronic privacy. Homann is even more adamant about protecting children, who he says are the most vulnerable members of society.
What makes Cayla so dangerous to consumers is her natural appearance. She seems to be an everyday doll that shows no sign that she is collecting and transmitting everything she hears. She reports these things to two companies, Genesis, which makes Cayla and another company in the U.S. called Nuance.
Nuance responded to this by saying that it in no way shares “Voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our customers.”
And even though her suspicious nature has caused her to banned in Germany, My Friend Cayla is still on sale in the United States. In fact, she can be purchased on Amazon, but not on sites of stores like Toys R Us or Wal-Mart. Toys R Us doesn’t offer the toy in stores either.
In order to fully ban the doll in Germany, German regulators appealed a federal law against espionage devices. Anyone who is caught trying to sell My Friend Cayla or even caught owning one in Germany will be slapped with a fine of 25,000 euros. The regulators say that even though this is effective, they don’t plan on perusing action against parents who’ve already bought the doll for their children. The agency hoped that once this news has gotten out to all its citizens, parents will take it upon themselves to get rid of the doll.
Though the Federal Network Agency is doing what it can to make sure that Cayla does not reach any more children in Germany, their concerns about the doll are not the first ones to arise. In fact, privacy and consumer advocates in the United States filed complaints against My Friend Cayla during the Christmas holiday shopping season. They were unhappy with the Internet-connected doll and the threat she posed to children and other users since the doll can be linked to any smartphone device to share the voice of someone or record what is being told.
A fraction of the complaint made by Claire Gartland of the Consumer Privacy Project was described by NPR’s Brian Naylor who stated,
“Gartland says the conversations that Cayla records are sent to servers at a company called Genesis, which makes the doll, and to another company called Nuance, which makes voice-recognition software for this any many other products. Nuance also has a database used by law enforcement and military and intelligence agencies that matches voice prints.”
Brian also had an interaction with Cayla himself where he asks her if he can tell her a secret. Cayla in turn replies, “Sure go ahead. Be very quiet though. I promise not to tell anyone. It’s just between you and me because we are friends.”
Even the Norway Consumer Council has urged people not to purchase the doll. They even made a video titled “Watch how this doll fails.” In the video, NCC’s technical director demonstrates the threats the doll poses and even has an interaction with it near the end where the doll says “I don’t know” when asked if it can be trusted.