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US senator wants to make sure the FTC takes smart toys seriously

He wants to know if regulators are doing enough to protect kids' data.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
May 23, 2017
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It's not just parents that are worrying about the security of connected toys. Senator Mark Warner has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission grilling it about efforts to protect kids' privacy when they use smart toys like the CloudPets you see above. He's particularly worried that FTC Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen is shrugging off concerns about how companies handle kids' data. In recent statements, she argued that the FTC should focus on "objective, concrete harms," such as financial damage or health risks -- toy data leaks might not fit under that bill.

Warner's questions touch on a few subjects. In addition to Ohlhausen's remarks, the Senator is interested in whether or not the FTC has responded to both the CloudPets and My Friend Cayla privacy incidents. He also wants to know if the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) needs an upgrade to "keep pace" with modern security.

There's no guarantee that Warner will get the answers he wants, let alone promises that the FTC is taking toy data privacy seriously. Although he's on the Senate committee handling consumer protection (Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs), the letter isn't binding. And the FTC, like other agencies in the current US administration, is limiting its regulatory scope.

With that said, there are hints that he might find a receptive audience. Ohlhausen's same statements acknowledge that data leaks can hurt beyond just financial info. She notes that the Ashley Madison hack led to people committing suicide after their infidelity was made public, and that snippets of seemingly innocuous info can violate your privacy when they're pieced together. The agency head may decide that connected toys are problematic simply because the potential consequences of a hack might be too severe to ignore.

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