• 26 MAY 15
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    Wi-Fi-enabled Barbie dolls and Smart Teddies in the smart surveillance state

    From Richard Giles

    Google patents Creepy Internet ‘Toys’ that could Control your Home, Listen in on Conversations and Spy on Children
    * Toys containing microphones and cameras could record conversations
    * Would be able to control appliances like TVs, music systems and lights
    By SARAH GRIFFITHS, MAILONLINE
    PUBLISHED: 23 May 2015

    Buzz Lightyear and Woody may have been able to switch lights on and off and drive remote controlled cars, but toys of the future could take control of all sorts of household appliances and even spy on their owners too.

    Google has published a patent that suggests creepy-looking teddy bears and rabbits could one day keep a watchful eye on children and adults, eavesdropping on everything we say. The internet-connected devices would listen for instructions and interact with homeowners to switch lights on and off or turn on household appliances upon a simple vocal command, for example.

    The toys, dreamed up by Google’s secretive R&D division, have captured the attention of privacy campaigners, because they contain microphones, speakers and cameras. The toys also feature motors to change their facial expressions and have the ability to connect to the internet.

    Google’s patent suggests the ‘toy’ would listen for a trigger word and upon hearing it, would turn to face the speaker. Using cameras, it would check the person is making eye contact with the toy, the BBC reports.

    It would then speak back or adopt a new facial expression to show surprise, for example, before carrying out useful actions such as switching on a washing machine, for example. Such human-like toys have featured in horror and science fiction films such as Stephen Spielberg’s film, AI.

    The patent says: ‘To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head and/or focus its gaze on the user.’
    The drawing in the patent shows the machine taking the form of a teddy bear or robot, but dragons or aliens could be a possibility.

    It suggests that by looking cute, ‘young children might find these forms to be attractive’ and adults would interact with them more naturally than a traditional computer interface. Homes could use one or have a number of ‘toys’ to spread around the home to assist different members of the family.

    But Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said devices that record conversations and log activity come with privacy concerns.’When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line.
    ‘Children should be able to play in private and shouldn’t have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy. It is simply unnecessary.’

    There is no guarantee that Google’s idea will ever make it into production – like the ideas published in many patents – and it is not the only company to work on internet connected toys.

    Qualcomm has already floated the idea of a smart teddy bear in its ‘house of the future’ at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. A concept bear was demonstrated in a child’s bedroom that is able to say good morning or goodnight to a child, while lights turn on or off. While teddy used in the home was a concept device, yet similar smart teddies are already on sale, such as Teddy the Guardian from London-based IDX Labs.

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