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Toys / My Friend Cayla

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Look carefully. It's just a doll.
My Friend Cayla was a line of 18-inch dolls invented by Bob Delprincipe and sold by Genesis Toys. The doll is similar in size and proportions to the likes of an American Girl doll, but her main selling point is her Internet of Things capabilities, basically making Cayla a Chatty Cathy on steroids. At her core, Cayla is nothing more than a Bluetooth speaker stuffed into a doll, but through a companion mobile app, one could have a conversation, ask questions and have the doll tell a story to its owner as if she were a real person. Which sounds cute on paper...

...except the idea of an Internet-enabled doll for children would be criticized as being wrong on so many levels. Stranger Danger ensues, and Big Brother-esque concerns led her to be banned in Germany and restricted in other places, after a white-hat security researcher pointed out a glaring flaw in her design, leading to complaints and her eventual discontinuation.

The resulting controversy led to the doll's inclusion in the Museum of Failure traveling exhibition, where similar failed products and services which were either commercial failures or are controversial in their own right are on display, and one of the dolls is exhibited alongside the likes of a copy of No Man's Skynote  and an N-Gage, highlighting some of the notable failures in the tech industry. Another example was donated by a concerned German mother to the German Spy Museum in Berlin, marking the first time a toy was included in the exhibit.


My Friend Cayla provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Ask her about her life and she will tell you about her favourite colour, her pets and other details about her backstory.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Especially when the company running the doll's back-end service has been used for less-than-family-friendly purposes as well as advertising, leading to it being banned in Germany as a "surveillance device." Not only was it forcibly withdrawn from sale in the country, even mere possession of the toy is also deemed illegal, though authorities did give parents some leeway on whether to dispose of the doll.
  • Companion Cube: Taken Up to Eleven as Cayla can converse with her owner in some way rather than be just an inanimate doll.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: Though in fairness, she does give out answers.
  • Advertisement:
  • Cool Toy: "It's amazing what she knows!"
  • Creepy Doll: Hearing Cayla talk in monotone would certainly creep some people out.
  • Everything Is Online: Even a doll such as this has been made to connect to the cloud, scraping answers from Wikipedia and various other references.
  • Friend to All Children: As she is, at least in principle, designed to appeal to young girls.
  • Inappropriate Speak-and-Spell: Assuming one rigs her into saying the most vile and puerile things, which is unfortunately easy to pull off without much effort.
  • Machine Monotone: Her voice is, being derived from an intelligent voice assistant, rather unsettling to say the least.
  • Media Scaremongering: In fairness, media coverage of the doll tends to lean on this. While Cayla has been proven to be insecure and vulnerable to attack by unsavoury elements e.g. pedophiles and bullies, it is easy to forget that there are other safety issues children are facing besides smart toys and the internet, and it all boils down to responsible parenting which some mums and dads seem to forget in this day and age, hence why kids are unwittingly exposed to YouTube Kids' Channels and the like.
  • Not the Intended Use: Most of the controversy centres on how the doll could be used to spy on children or deliver targeted advertising, neither of which is legal.note  One security researcher even rigged her to unlock a garage door, if this rather sensationalist YouTube video is to be believed.
  • Obvious Beta: The concept works at least in principle, except that Cayla's inventor, Bob Delprincipe, forgot to have her hardened and secured in as many ways as possible especially for an Internet-connected device aimed towards children. Since the doll is by all intents and purposes a Bluetooth speaker, one could connect to her and make her say less-than-savoury things or eavesdrop on unwitting children, especially with the doll's Bluetooth stack being (alarmingly) insecure. There is no pairing security with the doll, allowing an attacker with a rigged app to connect to a target Cayla doll—it is possible to hack the companion app, modify its speech database by adding profanities and other nasty things, and sideload it back to a phone or tablet. A number of IoT-enabled toys have been slammed by watchdog and cybersecurity groups for failing to account for children's security, one of them being CloudPets who fell victim to a data breach of children's private information and was harshly criticised for failing to respond to inquiries, at best advising parents to change their passwords.
  • Princess Phase: Asking Cayla about her preferences would make her state that her favourite colour is pink and she likes to pretend to be a princess. She would also state that her favourite movie is Disney’s The Little Mermaid and her favourite song is "Let it Go" from Frozen (2013), something which would later be used in a complaint by watchdog groups alleging that the toy violated COPPA and espoused pervasive commercialism.
  • Robot Kid: Not that she could move on her own, but she is able to converse with her owner.note 
  • Shout-Out: As mentioned above, Cayla cites The Little Mermaid and Frozen to be among her favourites.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: If you manage to edit the app's speech database that is. Hilarity ensues.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Develop a talking doll, itself already creepy enough as it is. Now connect her to the Internet and have data relayed to a central server. Sure makes for a brilliant idea, right?
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Being a talking doll who is able to scrape various sources for facts, she is naturally this.