AI In Children’s Toys: A Question of Ethics, Privacy & Safety

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Honestly just the sentence “AI in children’s toys” immediately sends a chill down my spine. The fact that anyone could ever allow Artificial Intelligence to infiltrate their home in such a dangerous and unethical way speaks volumes to the ignorance of the general public on the topic.

Listen, at no point am I saying that the little AI Barbie robots are going to go rogue and start hacking at our children in their sleep. But there is no doubt that they are the ultimate spies, and without any regulation on AI devices in the future, our kids’ minds will be laid out like a robot buffet ready for the taking.

In this article, I will delve into AI in children’s toys and discuss the consequences of unvetted, dead machines hanging out with our beloved little buggers.

Little boy sitting on the meadow with toy airplane


COPPA stands for Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This law helps protect our children’s privacy from large corporations that may use various tactics to obtain their personal data. It provides just a smidge of comfort as I am convinced that the billionaires at the top have empathy equal to that of AI.

The law, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is a United States law from 1998 that essentially bans the collection of data from children under the age of 13. For the most part, it regulates the online presence of children, and forces website operators to obtain verifiable parental consent before they can snatch any data from kids.

COPPA ensures (and remember this for later) that when your children are participating in any form of activity on the internet, they cannot gain access to any of the child’s personal information. This includes things like their name, address, phone number, email information – or even anything that defines or describes their general looks, such as race, ethnicity, and body features.

My (Terrifying) Friend Cayla

Now that we know how COPPA works, imagine you go to the store and buy your kid a Barbie doll, brandished as the latest and hottest trend on the market. The doll looks like your kid’s perfect match: it has tons of features, lots of little bits and bobs, and will even talk to your child. It’s advertised as an all-knowing Barbie doll and can answer all of your child’s questions, refer to your kid by name, and even tell stories.

Honestly, the toy might even be so entertaining and distracting for your little mini-me that there’s a tiny chance you can even have an entire nap in peace. Check out the ad for this toy below.

Maybe it’s the anti-AI cynic in me, but hearing Cayla’s voice gives me the chills. Something so ominous about the dead and monotone voice interacting with my daughters puts me on edge, but let me tell you why it truly is a problem.

The doll, although terrifying, is obviously designed for children under the age of 13. Cayla had a plethora of unique interactions and functions, but it was also capable of acting as a spy. It listened to conversations within the household and gathered information such as the names, ages, and interests of your children. It then had the ability to collect that data and share it with third parties.

Germany immediately banned the toy and told families to destroy it, but it took a whopping 3 years and hundreds of complaints to the FTC before the US managed to understand that this was a serious breach of COPPA and reluctantly forced it off the shelves.

AI In Children’s Toys Is Anxiety Inducing

Now obviously these two dolls were taken off the market eventually, but it’s a beyond terrifying thought that this was even allowed to happen in the first place. Even with regulation, and an old one at that, Creepy Cayla was allowed to stay on the shelves for three years.

Source: Genisis Toys

Imagine having a toy that constantly gathers information about your children. Even if it’s just sitting in the corner without being used, it can potentially accumulate more knowledge about your family than you will over the years.

The toy market provides such products, parents buy them, and they somehow “meet” US regulations (they don’t). There is no telling how harmful this will be to the next generation in the near future.

What scares me the most is that the whole Cayla debacle was years before ChatGPT and other more easily accessible AI models were out. The internet is currently being flooded by other ways that AI can impact your children’s lives, future, and privacy.

For the record, there is nothing stopping your kid from going to ChatGPT right now, regardless of their age.

Safety First: Stay in the Know

As parents, we have a clear obligation to keep our children as safe from the rise of Artificial Intelligence as possible. AI in children’s toys was possible long before ChatGPT, so imagine what can happen now.

Governments of the world always talk big about the privacy of our families and children, yet allow little dead machines like Cayla and Hello Barbie to hang with our kids for years. What happens the day the government just gives up on AI?

Read about AI as a friend

As of writing, there is no congressional push to help quelch the spread of Artificial Intelligence, much less AI in children’s toys in the US. Luckily the EU is a little more proactive, with countries like Italy literally banning ChatGPT.

For the safety of your yourself, your children, and their future – stay on top of which toys are brought into the house. Anything that seems like it could have a form of personality or a microphone can steal data and breach your privacy. Now that it’s clear the government is willing to just kind of let it happen, we have to take a stance ourselves.

Safeguard your children’s future. Say NO TO AI


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