We have finally reached December, and with it, comes the time for shopping. Of course, some people will focus on the youngest members of their families – i.e., children. However, it needs to be emphasized that even with children, there are special concerns. The law considers juveniles and their decision-making capabilities, and in the age of the “smart toy,” this could have far ranging impacts on businesses and the emerging market. What is a smart toy? How might it differ from an average toy? What would a business need to be aware of? What about a parent?
Smart toys, alternatively known as “connected” toys, are those devices that can be used for play, but also connect to the internet or cloud. This concept may sound like the internet of things–and these smart toys are just another part. A good example of this may be something like the “Hello Barbie” dolls from 2015. These dolls were akin to a smart chat program, or a more personable Siri/Cortana/Alexa. While Barbie’s operating system would not allow her to break significantly off a script, she would remember and adapt to a child’s thoughts, concerns, or desires.
These elements of the conversation would be recorded and remembered via a cloud that Barbie was connected to. The Barbie would work like a microphone, taking in data the cloud used to remember the child and tailor conversations to that child. Yet, this did not escape concern by parents, as it entailed the conversations between the child and doll being recorded and analyzed by a third party.
Even now, other toys can develop “smart” features, like the Sphero Interactive Spiderman, which also requires an internet connection for software updates, but manages to keep most of its interactions offline. This separates the idea of “smart toys” from much of the internet of things, as that internet of things generally requires constant connection to automate or better command home appliances (i.e., smart home devices).
What do businesses need to be aware of?
Ultimately, there are two prongs: The marketing prong (dealing with parents) and the legal prong. For internet connected toys, all rules that apply to the internet of things apply here as well. Ensuring updates long into the toy’s lifespan can help avoid security gaps that may injure the product’s reputation. For Hello Barbie, a similar report had come out and it may have impacted its sales.
However, regarding the legal prong, it is important and necessary to emphasize that the federal government has enacted laws such as COPPA, which is designed to protect young children from undue data collection. However, California has further protections (e.g., Business and Professions Code 22580), that yield further prohibitions and caveats on recording information on children.
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