CHICAGO | Parents have a new worry when it comes to holiday shopping for the young people on their list this year — so-called connected toys that may invade children's privacy.
For the first time, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund is alerting parents to be cautious about smart toys that collect data. The group releases an annual toy safety survey each year, available at toysafetytips.org.
This year the group cited as an example a doll called "My Friend Cayla," which the organization said has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the Federal Trade Commission.
The doll connects with an app via Bluetooth and can talk and interact, play games, share photos and read stories, according to the toy's website. The doll, however, records conversations between it and children and asks children for personal information, such as their mom and dad's names, school names and locations, according to a complaint filed with the FTC by groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and Consumers Union.
"There is a digital privacy concern but also a very real physical safety concern that could put children in danger," said Abe Scarr, director of the education fund, about connected toys.
Additionally, the research education fund cited toys containing lead, powerful magnets, batteries that can overheat and small parts and balloons that could lead to choking. The report cited two models of fidget spinners previously sold at Target as examples of toys containing lead. Those spinners have since been pulled from Target's shelves, Scarr said.
The fund also says parents should be wary of excessively loud toys that can cause hearing loss, such as toy phones, and cited balloon toys that can become stuck in children's throats. Some balloon toys are marketed to children under 8 or have warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages 3 and 8, according to the report.