Internet-connected toys: A #ToyFail with global implications

09 December 2016

Amanda Long, Director General at Consumers International, discusses the failure of My Friend Cayla and i-Que dolls to protect consumer privacy and considers what this means for consumers globally.

The way in which consumers are interacting with the digital world is constantly evolving. With more than 3 billion people now connected to the internet worldwide, there is a growing opportunity for everyday objects to be synced with the web. By 2020, it is forecasted that the number of connected devices will reach 50.1 billion and children’s toys are no exception to this trend.

In the wake of the Norwegian Consumer Council’s #ToyFail report, Consumers International and several of our Members have condemned the miserable failure of My Friend Cayla and i-Que toys to protect consumer data, security and privacy. Not only are these toys dangerously easy for others to gain access to, they are also able to record everything the child says and transfer the recordings to a company that can sell the information on the third parties. 

This irresponsible lapse in consumer protection raises a number of important questions. How has this failure impacted on consumers across the world? What can it tell us about the current gaps between rapid digital innovation and the policies in place to protect consumer privacy and data? How can the global consumer movement use its collective voice to call for change? 

By looking at the manufacturing and distribution network of these toys, it is easy to see that the reach of this issue has no borders. Genesis Toys, the company that produces and develops both the Cayla and i-Que dolls, are based in Los Angeles, California. The products are then manufactured in Hong Kong before being distributed to retailers in the U.S, South Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Scandinavia. British toy company Vivid also distribute the toys to markets in Europe, including the UK, France and Germany. The companion app for the toys is developed by ToyQuest, who have offices across the globe and are partnered with a wide range of licensors including Disney, Nickelodeon and DreamWorks

The international reach of these companies is hugely significant. The availability of the toys in a wide range of markets maximises the number of consumers affected by the breaches in security and privacy. The capacity of national consumer protection policies in each market will also differ from country to country, leaving some consumers more exposed than others. 

Digital innovation is undoubtedly a key driver of progress and has the potential to create many opportunities for consumers. The benefits should not, however, come at the expense of the rights of individuals. Consumers must feel that they can use their products safely and securely without concerns that their thoughts, opinions and feelings will be passed on to the highest bidder. Trust should be at the forefront of every relationship between digital providers and consumers. In this case, it would seem that the trust of parents and children using the toys has been undermined. 

It is also essential that companies adopt a design-philosophy that puts safety, privacy and security at the top of their priority list when developing new products. As the speed with which the creation of new technologies and devices accelerates, manufacturers and governments must make sure that their safeguarding of consumer interests keeps up the pace. 

As this story continues to develop, we must ensure that the collective voice of consumers across the globe is heard. Working together with our members, Consumers International has acted quickly to brief and share engagement tools with consumer organisations in affected markets outside of Europe, enabling them to liaise with the relevant national authorities and media outlets. Regardless of where consumers are based in the world, we are calling for the manufacturers to:

  • Not collect more data than necessary for the functionality of the service
  • Prevent these kind of issues resurfacing by adopting a design-philosophy of privacy and security by design.
  • Make these toys safer by increasing security features in how devices are paired, to stop unauthorised people from connecting to the toy.
  • Stop all direct marketing to children through to apps

By following these guidelines and prioritising consumer protection, digital providers can begin to move towards a world in which consumers can fully benefit from advances in technology without the fear of their rights being eroded.


- #Toyfail: An analysis of consumer and privacy issues in three internet-connected toys, Norweigan Consumer Council

- Here’s How Many Internet Users There Are, TIME

- IoT: number of connected devices worldwide from 2012 to 2020, Statista