Kids & Connected Toys


This week Emily McReynolds will be speaking at the Future of Privacy Forum event Kids & the Connected Home. One of the Tech Policy Lab’s current projects focuses on the privacy and security implications of connected toys, Toys That Listen. Follow the discussion on Twitter at #InternetofToys.

Hello Barbie, Amazon Echo, and the home robot Jibo are part of a new wave of connected toys and gadgets for the home that listen. Different than the smartphone, these devices are always on, blending into the background until needed by the adult or child user. We do not yet know all the information our new toys are collecting, storing, or disclosing. With an intended audience of designers and regulators, this project brings an interdisciplinary group of experts together to build a set of consumer protection best practices for design and user control of connected devices in the home.

The potential benefits of household intelligent devices may be real–these technologies claim to increase convenience, cleanliness, and even improve health. In the lab setting, at-home robots have been tested to help individuals with dementia or rehabilitation. But just as the benefits may be game-changing and exciting, the threats of harm will be novel and non-trivial. Attacks on consumer privacy via the Internet are pervasive, and these issues increase where devices record information from inside the home.

Our goal is to preempt privacy problems before they occur. Consumer privacy protection laws have often been reactionary–drafted or amended after privacy was breached and individuals harmed. The Video Privacy Protection Act, for example, was the result of lessons on the dangers of the distribution of an individual’s video rental history. The recent Netflix settlement under the same Act shows that these issues are alive and well today. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) responds to fears adults have about children being online and the new internet-connected toys raise these fears. While legislation like California’s Online Privacy Protection Act has been found to extend from the initial web page privacy policy requirement to apps on devices, the delivery of privacy notices on toys such as Hello Barbie is more difficult to design. With household devices having the ability to collect increasingly detailed information about what we watch, listen to, talk about, or purchase from the comfort of home, now is the time to identify and implement best practices.

PokemonGO and Policy for Augmented Reality Applications


With widespread adoption, PokemonGO has brought the novel policy considerations of augmented reality to a wide audience. Over the last week, members of the Lab have highlighted some of these issues. Co-Director Calo,  noted the novel nature of a game that requires players to physically travel and potentially actionable nuisance created by the developers (Verge). In an article in New Scientist, Emily McReynolds highlighted the benefits of including a diverse set of stakeholders in the design of these applications.

In the Tech Policy Lab’s Augmented Reality Law and Policy Primer we provide a preview of the policy implications of this developing technology and make conditional  recommendations. Our key findings included:

1. AR exists in a variety of configurations, but in general, AR is a mobile or embedded technology that senses, processes, and outputs data in real-time, recognizes and tracks real-world objects, and provides contextual information by supplementing or replacing human senses.
2. AR systems will raise legal and policy issues in roughly two categories: collection and display. Issues tend to include privacy, free speech, and intellectual property as well as novel forms of distraction and discrimination.
3. We recommend that policymakers—broadly defined—engage in diverse stakeholder analysis, threat modeling, and risk assessment processes. We recommend that they pay particular attention to: a) the fact that adversaries succeed when systems fail to anticipate behaviors; and that, b) not all stakeholders experience AR the same way.
4. Architectural/design decisions—such as whether AR systems are open or closed, whether data is ephemeral or stored, where data is processed, and so on—will each have policy consequences that vary by stakeholder.

Faculty Director Ryan Calo Testifies Before German Parliament

On June 22, 2016 C0-Director Calo testified before the German Parliament, the Bundestag. He answered questions as part of a hearing before the Committee on the Digital Agenda on “The Effects of Robotics on Economics, Labour and Society. He answered questions about the application of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence for economic growth; and identified a number of issues regulatory issues legislators will face. Read more here.

Guest Post: Robot Operator License: Educating Teleoperated Robot Users to Increase Public Safety

Sarah Hubbard, a student Research Assistant with the Lab, and Hannah Misenar just recently completed their Information School Capstone on a concept they call the “Robot Operator License”. After being exposed to a variety of tech policy issues with emerging technologies through the Lab, Sarah was interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities with the integration of teleoperated robots into society. Below is a description of their project.

Robot Operator License: Educating Teleoperated Robot Users to Increase Public Safety

by Sarah Hubbard and Hannah Misenar


Following the path of Moore’s Law, teleoperated robots are becoming more accessible and ubiquitous in the everyday consumers life — forever changing the way we work and interact with the world around us. In order to maintain public safety in a society cohabited by humans and machines, the Robot Operator License ensures that users have completed training and received a license to operate their robot. This educational course provides critical information and interactive simulations in an effort to smoothly transition this technology into the modern world.

Developed in partnership with the UW CSE Human-Centered Robotics Lab, the Robot Operator License is designed for the Beam+ telepresence robot, which serves as a proof-of­-concept and demonstrates a need for this type of operational education. This course aims to tackle the policy challenges and threats to public safety due to the use of teleoperated robots by the everyday individual.

View the project video here. Visit the Robot Operator License online course here.  


Artificial Intelligence: Law and Policy

On Tuesday, May 24, the Lab and the UW School of Law co-hosted the first of four White House public workshops on artificial intelligence. Deputy CTO Ed Felton and other members of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spoke on panels and were in attendance for the workshop. Other speakers included Lab Co-Director Ryan Calo, Oren Etzioni, Kellye Testy, R. David Edelman, Pedro Domingos, Deirdre Mulligan, Kate Crawford, Jack Balkin, and Camille Fischer.

The event was covered by The New York Times, MIT Technology Review, and The Seattle Times.

More information about The White House workshop series on the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence can be found here.