Trouble in toyland: Consumer protection group cautions about dangerous toys

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Buying toys for kids this holiday season?

Experts say it’s a good idea to read labels and do a little research before purchasing playthings for the children in your life.

In its 32nd annual “Trouble in Toyland” report, the U.S. Public Interest Research group exposes fidget spinners full of lead, inadequately-labeled toys and balloons that pose a choking hazard, and data-collecting toys that may violate children’s privacy and other consumer protection laws. The report also provides a list of toys that have been recalled over the past year.

The doll “My Friend Cayla” is on the list. It has Bluetooth capability that PIRG’s Kristen Carver said is cause for concern.

“Your child can ask it questions, and it talks back to you,” Carver told Public News Service. “It has an unsecured Bluetooth connection. Anybody could really access it and could potentially listen in on things that are going on in your home.”

The doll is banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The company has insisted in public statements the doll is safe.

The FBI issued a warning to parents last summer about toys that include unsecured technology.

“In some cases, toys with microphones could record and collect conversations within earshot of the device. Information such as the child’s name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment,” the FBI warning said. “The collection of a child’s personal information (and physical location) combined with a toy’s ability to connect to the internet or other devices raises concerns for privacy and physical safety.”

PIRG also found high levels of lead in some fidget spinners sold at Target, although the retailer said it has since removed them from its shelves.

Carver also highlighted problems with toys found in dollar stores that had conflicting information on their packaging.

“They had misleading labels,” she said. “So, they had labels that said they’re ‘not for children under 8,’ however they also had a ‘3-plus’ label.”

She added magnets and button batteries present extra concerns since, in addition to being choking hazards, they can cause severe damage to a child’s digestive system and take extra time to be discovered in their bodies.

To make sure smaller toys don’t present a choking hazard to young children, Carver recommended using a toilet paper roll. Any toy or part that fits inside the roll could get lodged in a child’s throat.

The full “Trouble in Toyland” report can be downloaded by visiting goo.gl/cJa271

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