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Report From Public Interest Research Group Says Toy Violates Privacy

PHOENIX — It was bad enough when parents had to worry about choking hazards, poisonous chemicals and excessive noise when buying presents.

Now add privacy to the list.

In it's annual "Trouble in Toyland'' report, the Public Interest Research Group is taking on the latest generation of toys that use artificial intelligence to not only interact with children but can connect with the Internet. Put simply, according to Aaron Kane, the organization's field associate, they listen — and can collect information on what they hear and how the child is using the toy not only to the company that made them but to others, including advertisers.

"They may endanger a child's privacy,'' he said at a press conference on Tuesday, including keeping track of a child's activity, habits and personal data.

And Kane said it may not stop there: Like other Internet-connected devices, they can record conversations within earshot.

He specifically cited a product called Dash, which manufacturer Wonder Works says can interact with and respond to surroundings. It is designed for children age 6 and above.

The company's web site says certain "product use information'' is automatically transmitted to the firm and is "used to provide support, improve our products and services, and form similar activities that support our internal operations.''

But in a prepared statement Vikas Gupta, the company's CEO, said the claims of PIRG are false.

"Our apps and robots do not share children's data with third parties and we are fully compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act,'' he said.

There is, however, a different privacy issue: Even the company's web site warns that user-created content, including voice recordings, remain stored within the robot and can be played by anyone else who subsequently gets the toy. And it informs parents to contact the company to learn how to remove such information before getting rid of the toy.

This year's PIRG report also has a special emphasis on "slime'' products, what with gooey gross-out messes always attractive to children.

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