There's a toy in your daughter's bed that is taking in your nighttime stories, transmitting her every giggle, listening to her every breath.
And possibly talking back to her.
And parents are being asked to find it, replace it and completely destroy it. It' the My Friend Cayla doll.
Tech news sites like PC Mag and even the BBC are reporting that, in Germany, the dolls are basically illegal. And that they put any child at risk for have 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.”
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.”
That's kind of the opposite purpose of child play, but nevermind.
The My Friend Cayla dolls isn’t the first or only internet enabled doll on the market, and Germans aren't the only ones to push back against open access to kids' conversations.
Two years ago, Mattel introduced Hello Barbie, which was roundly deemed totally freaking creepy.
While Hello Barbie is still on the market, it was not the success Mattel was hoping for. In fact, Hello Barbie couldn't catch a break when she was named Worst Toy of 2015 by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
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.
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.
People love being able to play music, set timers and get news updates, but those conveniences come at a price—nearby family’s privacy. Just like My Friend Cayla, Alexa—the "personal assistant" talking to me from my Amazon Echo—is always listening.
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.