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. We are grateful to the Rose Foundation Consumer Privacy Rights Fund for funding this work.

Forthcoming in CHI 2017, our study Toys That Listen: A Study of Parents, Children, and Internet-Connected Toys, explored people’s mental models and experiences with these emerging technologies and to help inform the future designs of interactive, connected toys and gadgets.

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 like Hello Barbie 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.