VPIRG holiday warning: Privacy is newest worry about troublesome toys

Photo courtesy of VPIRG
Adam Maxwell, field director at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, speaks about toys the group says present a risk to children.

By Mike Polhamus
VTDigger.org

Toxic toys are stocked on retailers’ shelves, along with dolls that violate children’s privacy and other playtime products that can block youngsters’ windpipes, according to a report by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

The advocacy group, which issues a similar report every year, used the report’s release as an opportunity to remind Vermonters that legislators this year sought to bolster state laws governing toxins in children’s toys, but the bill faltered late in the session.

Existing regulations also don’t prevent toymakers and retailers from producing and selling toys that are potentially toxic, the report says. The report, compiled by VPIRG’s national affiliate U.S. PIRG, claims that such toys can be found online and in around the country including Walmart, Dollar Tree, and Target.

For instance, a fidget-spinner toy sold at Target contains lead in concentrations hundreds of times greater than federal law allows in children’s products, the report says.

Target earlier this month announced it would remove two fidget-spinner models from its shelves. The products had been labeled for use by teenagers but are popular among children, according to VPIRG.

Target has no Vermont locations but plans to open one in South Burlington next year.

Researchers said they also found a doll that uses voice-recognition software over the internet to give the appearance of talking. The dolls ask children a variety of personal questions and records children’s interactions with them. A version of the toy called My Friend Cayla has been banned in Germany for the invasion of children’s privacy it represents, the report says.

In July, the FBI warned parents to consider security before buying interactive internet-connected toys, because the information they seek and collect — such as name, birthday, school, and interests — can put children’s safety at risk.

“We can and must do better for our kids,” VPIRG Field Director Adam Maxwell said in a news release. “If manufacturers will not voluntarily make their products safer, then we urge the federal government and Vermont’s Department of Health and legislative leaders to take action.”

The report also lists recalled toys and recommendations for how parents and caregivers can protect children from hazards.

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