After researchers found that My Friend Cayla dolls were recording users’ and sending this information out to a third party specializing in voice-recognition for police and military forces, officials in Germany told parents to get rid of the toys. In case families didn’t take that request seriously, the country’s telecommunications regulator has since clarified that parents who don’t destroy their Cayla dolls could face more than $25,000 in fines.
For those unfamiliar, the My Friend Cayla doll records and collects conversations between the toy and the kids, and then uses speech-to-text protocols to turn the questions into searchable queries.
While the doll isn’t connected directly to the internet, it can be accessed by Bluetooth with any mobile device that contains the doll’s dedicated app, essentially giving anyone the means to eavesdrop on the conversations with the doll. Researchers claim that the devices are easily hacked to either intercept data or to turn the toys into remote listening devices.
“It’s pretty bad bringing a doll on the market anybody in a 30-feet radius can connect to,” Stefan Hessel, a law student who wrote the Agency’s legal opinion to ban the doll, tells the WSJ. “A regular Bluetooth loudspeaker is better protected.”
Back in February, the Federal Network Agency issued a warning to parents about the doll, asking them to destroy it as it was determined to be a “concealed transmitting device.”
The agency has now laid out just how parents are to destroy the doll. Parents are asked to fill out a destruction certificate that must be signed by a waste-management company and sent back to the agency for proof.
While the agency says it has no plans to take action against those who don’t destroy the doll, it certainly could.
Under German telecommunication laws, those who don’t comply with Federal Network Agency directives could face a fine up to $26,500 and two years in prison, the WSJ reports.
Vivid Germany GmbH, the company distributing the doll in the country, tells the WSJ that it takes the Federal Network Agency’s complaint seriously, but doesn’t believe the doll breaks any laws.
“There is no reason to destroy Cayla or give the doll away,” the company said in a statement. “It isn’t a spying device.”
One mother tells the WSJ that she was surprised to have had the doll sitting in her daughter’s room for two years. She says she was hesitant to actually destroy the doll, so instead she donated it to the German Spy Museum Berlin.
This isn’t the first time the Federal Network Agency has ordered a connected toy to be destroyed, the WSJ reports. Last year, the agency banned a toy panda — used as a nanny cam — that had a hidden camera in its head. Before that, the company ordered a toy robot with an internet-enabled camera behind its visor to be disposed of.