Australian and New Zealand Communication Association
Place of Publication
School of Arts and Humanities
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : DE140101978, ARC Number : DP150104734
The Internet of Toys (IoToys) refers to the small subset of the Internet of Things often marketed to children and their caregivers as smart toys. These toys include many of the affordances of screen-based, networked technologies, packaged as children’s everyday playthings. Thus, Hello Barbie uses voice recognition and cloud-based computing combined with artificial intelligence procedures to craft meaningful responses to children’s statements and engage them in quasi-naturalistic conversation. Other IoToys also include image recognition and geo-locational data collection. Such toys can also be constructed in different ways that represent the perspectives of the speaker and circumstances of use. Thus Germany’s Federal Network Agency announced in February that it classified the My Friend Cayla doll (a competitor to Barbie) as an ‘illegal espionage apparatus’ because ‘under German law it is illegal to manufacture, sell or possess surveillance devices disguised as another object’. The IoToys facilitates both commercial relations and income streams for the manufacturers and/or associated organisations, such as marketing agencies, software providers and voice analytics services. These streams of income can include advertising to children through the connected toy, the collection, analysis and monetisation of children’s data and the sale of the toy itself. Buying the toy also involves long-term contractual agreements that transfer legal responsibility for the collection, analysis and distribution of children’s data onto their parents. This effectively gives commercial entities the authority to continue and conceivably expand upon data-collecting and data-sharing procedures. This article analyses the discursive construction of the future IoToys using textual analysis of media resources that provide stakeholder perspectives on this emerging field. It argues that, given their status as an emerging category of human–computer interaction devices, objects that can be classified as part of the IoToys currently occupy a controversial and contested media industries space, raising many regulatory and policy questions that children themselves are not equipped to consider or take into account.
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