How Products Spy On You In Your House

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has written to the Federal Trade Commission expressing concern that the regulations for toys and related products are not keeping pace with “consumer and technology trends.”

He said toys that spy on kids by automatically connecting to the Internet through WiFi can deliver tantalizing tidbits of information about their lives to marketers.

“I worry that protections for children are not keeping pace with consumer and technology trends shaping the market for these products,” Warner said in a letter to acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen.

He asked whether the government has taken action with respect to My Friend Cayla or other products manufactured by Genesis Toys.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” is the basic handbook on how American arrived at the point of being a de facto police state that essentially ignores the Constitution.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center previously filed a complaint with the FTC about some of those products, alleging My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot toys violated federal privacy laws.

Warner said recent events “have illustrated that in addition to security concerns with the devices themselves, new data-intensive functionalities of these devices necessitate attention to the manner in which vendors transmit and store user data collected by these devices.”

“Reports of your statements casting these risks as merely speculative – and dismissing consumer harms that don’t pose ‘monetary injury or unwarranted health and safety risks’ – only deepen my concerns,” he told Ohlhausen.

The EPIC report on the letter noted claims that CloudPets, a product of Spiral Toys, “stored customers’ personal data in an insecure, public-facing online database.”

The toy, the report said, “exposed over 800,000 customer credentials and more than 2 million voice recordings sent between parents and children.”

Regarding My Friend Cayla, he noted a complaint last year from privacy advocates that claimed the doll “can be used for unauthorized surveillance.” In February, 2017, the Bundesnetzagentur, Germany’s equivalent of the FTC, pulled My Friend Cayla off the market due to concerns over the doll’s surveillance capabilities.

“We all know that many of these so-called ‘smart’ devices aren’t so smart at protecting the safety and security of our kids,” said James P. Steyer of Common Sense Media. “Children’s toys with weak security can put not just kids’ personal information at risk, but imperil even their innermost thoughts. We applaud Sen. Warner for his efforts to ensure that our laws and rules keep pace with rapidly changing technology.”

Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute also expressed concern.

“The expanding world of connected toys offers innumerable benefits to children through education and play,” he said. “However, it is vitally important that parents can trust toymakers with their children’s most sensitive information. Companies must take their responsibilities to families seriously and ensure that data is protected to the highest industry standards.”

WND has reported several times on the controversy, including late in 2016 when EPIC, which has had concerns about the “Internet of Things” through which “always on” devices such as smartphones, DVR machines, televisions and toys are connected, raised concern about the My Friend Cayla toy.

The company declined comment to WND, but it boasts on its website: “My Friend Cayla is a beautiful 18″ interactive doll that offers hours of imaginative play! Cayla can understand and respond to you in real-time about almost anything. Ask her questions about herself, people, places, and things. She’s the smartest friend you will ever have.”

The doll’s features prompted EPIC to file a landmark complaint, alleging such toys put children under intense and constant surveillance, violating federal privacy law.

The group said Genesis Toys and the company that monitors children’s comments, Nuance Communications, “unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act … the COPPA Rule, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

“It is incumbent upon the Federal Trade Commission to take action in this matter, and to enjoin Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications from such unlawful activities.”

The complaint alleges the toys “are deployed in homes across the United States without any meaningful data protection standards.”

The complaint also cited the toy maker’s i-QUE Intelligent Robot.

Previously, Mattel’s “Hello Barbie,” a WiFi-connected doll with a built-in microphone, was spotlighted.

“Hello Barbie records and transmits children’s conversations to Mattel, where they are analyzed to determine ‘all the child’s likes and dislikes.’ … Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ won’t only be talking to a doll, they’ll be talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” EPIC said.

Samsung’s Internet-connected SmartTV also has a built-in mic that always is on and “routinely intercepts and records the private communications of consumers in their homes.”

“When the voice recognition feature is enabled, everything a user says in front of the Samsung SmartTV is recorded and transmitted over the Internet to a third party regardless whether it is related to the provision of the service.”

Microsoft has a voice and motion recorder called Kinect that is now installed in Xbox video-game consoles.

“The Kinect sensor tracks and records users’ voice and hand gestures when users say the word ‘Xbox’ followed by various permissible command options.”

A year earlier, EPIC began raising concern over such toys and “always-on” consumer devices.

The technologies may violate wiretap restrictions, state privacy laws, the Federal Trace Commission Act and more, the privacy group warned.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” is the basic handbook on how American arrived at the point of being a de facto police state that essentially ignores the Constitution.

After Manchester, Increased Danger in Minneapolis

This article describes the arrest of two Muslim brothers with weapons and explosives in Minneapolis. This causes great concern.


The massacre in Manchester this week seems to have prompted attention to the arrest of brothers Abdullah and Majid Alrifahe in north Minneapolis on May 11. Inside the parked car they were sitting in was a stash of guns, ammo, drone parts and an inert hand grenade. The arrest report provides an inventory of the stash officers found in “a cursory search” of the vehicle: “a loaded AK 47-type assault rifle, another rifle, several assault rifle magazines and large quantities of different ammunition (including shotgun shells), discharged shell casings and BB ammunition. Also found were several cell phones, computers and electronics equipment including drone parts.” And then we have this: “Bomb Squad personnel called to the scene noted that the variety of the ammunition and large quantity of BBs and electronic devices could be used for bomb-making.”

The Star Tribune published a brief article the following week. The Star Tribune story appears to be drawn directly from the arrest report. It has not returned to the story since the linked May 15 article. We followed up with law enforcement sources and noted the arrests here (May 16) and here.

As the driver of the car in which the stash was found, Abdullah Alrifahe has been charged with one felony count of possession of a pistol without a permit. He is in detention on $200,000 bond, which is suggestive of the seriousness with which authorities view the case. Majid Alrifahe, however, has been cited only for misdemeanor offenses and released. His case lies with the Minneapolis City Attorney. Reporters have not been able to reach Majid since the arrests.

Local law enforcement authorities have called on the FBI to see if agents can shed light on what’s happening here. So far as I can tell, the brothers do not appear on any watch list. Abdullah may be deportable if convicted of the felony charge, though no one has reported the brothers’ immigration status. Reading the arrest report, however, one can infer that the case has a wrinkle or two. I will attend the pretrial hearing in the case scheduled on June 12.

Yesterday, nearly two weeks after the arrests, CBSMinnesota’s Esme Murphy reported on the case (text here, video below). The sole felony charge against Abdullah and the misdemeanor charges against Majid belie the seriousness of the case reflected in the amount at which bail is set on Abdullah Alrifahe. The text of the story tactfully states that the case has raised “growing concerns.” Authorities have obviously had concerns since they found the brothers’ stash.

Esme consulted criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino (not involved in the case) for his comments. Tamburino explains that additional charges could be filed, which is always true. We will have to stay tuned.

Obama’s Foreign Conspiracy With An Enemy

From John Hinderaker


The Democrats are trying to make a scandal out of the fact that representatives of the Trump campaign communicated with Russians, even though those communications were 100% appropriate. I had forgotten about this post, which I wrote in March 2015, until Rush Limbaugh read from it on his program yesterday. It reminds us what a REAL scandal involving a presidential campaign and foreign policy looks like:

In 2008, the Bush administration, along with the “six powers,” was negotiating with Iran concerning that country’s nuclear arms program. The Bush administration’s objective was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On July 20, 2008, the New York Times headlined: “Nuclear Talks With Iran End in a Deadlock.” What caused the talks to founder? The Times explained:

Iran responded with a written document that failed to address the main issue: international demands that it stop enriching uranium. And Iranian diplomats reiterated before the talks that they considered the issue nonnegotiable.

The Iranians held firm to their position, perhaps because they knew that help was on the way, in the form of a new president. Barack Obama had clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3. At some point either before or after that date, but prior to the election, he secretly let the Iranians know that he would be much easier to bargain with than President Bush. Michael Ledeen reported the story last year:

During his first presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies. The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign.

So Obama secretly told the mullahs not to make a deal until he assumed the presidency, when they would be able to make a better agreement. Which is exactly what happened: Obama abandoned the requirement that Iran stop enriching uranium, so that Iran’s nuclear program has sped ahead over the months and years that negotiations have dragged on. When an interim agreement in the form of a “Joint Plan of Action” was announced in late 2013, Iran’s leaders exulted in the fact that the West had acknowledged its right to continue its uranium enrichment program:

“The (nuclear) program will continue and all the sanctions and violations against the Iranian nation under the pretext of the nuclear program will be removed gradually,” [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif] added. …

“Iran’s enrichment program has been recognized both in the first step and in the goals section and in the final step as well,” Zarif said.

“The fact that all these pressures have failed to cease Iran’s enrichment program is a very important success for the Iranian nation’s resistance,” he added.

So Obama delivered the weak agreement that he had secretly promised the mullahs.

That, readers, is what a real scandal looks like.

How State Taxes Impact Winning for Professional Teams , Especially In Minnesota

To test my theory, I gathered data on the outcomes of every professional sports game over the past 40 years as well as data on state and local tax rates each team member faces. I then computed how much taxes predict winning for each league in every year while controlling for other factors such as population, income, franchise age and local amenities (i.e., weather).

Results of the analysis show that higher taxes consistently predict worse performance in every league — not just the N.B.A. but also Major League Baseball, the N.H.L., and the N.F.L. over the past 20 years. The findings do not change if I use championships or finals appearances instead of regular season wins, and no single city, team or year drives the results.

It’s in the N.B.A. that I find the largest effect. If Minnesota eliminated its income tax, the Timberwolves might win two to five more games each year. This may not sound like much, but the price for victories is quite high. Last summer the Washington Wizards signed Bradley Beal to a five-year, $128 million contract, and if things go well, they should expect him to contribute two to five wins per season. I find a much smaller effect in M.L.B., which has no salary cap, where a similar income tax change for the Twins would result in winning only about one more game each season.

These results should provide some good news for other long-suffering fans in Buffalo, Sacramento, Oakland, Washington, or all of Canada. It’s not your fault (entirely). Your teams have essentially been playing with ankle weights against teams from Florida, Texas, and Washington State. I am also sure that if you ask Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban under oath, they would admit some of the Cowboys’ and Mavericks’ continued success is because their players pay no state income taxes.

Several other factors connect the income tax effect to my theory. Comparing player salary to player value measures provides evidence that higher-taxed teams in baseball and basketball pay more for players of similar quality, suggesting tax compensation is real. The income tax effect also relies on the assumption that players and teams are responding to income tax rates when negotiating contracts. This explains why the effect arises only in the wake of collective bargaining agreements in the late 1980s and early 1990s that allowed players to become unrestricted free agents and have teams compete to sign them.

The income tax effect could also be explained if people in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida just enjoy sports more and support their teams more and this translates to more winning. But I found that in college football and basketball, where athletes are not paid and should not care about income tax rates, teams from lower-tax states do not perform better than teams in higher-tax states.

The gut reaction of die-hard sports fans to hearing that their team is worse off because of income taxes would be justification enough to eliminate income taxes all together. Heck, we might even push for income subsidies instead if it might bring a championship to Minnesota.

But the real solution lies within the salary cap rules intended to level the playing field in the first place. Why not attack the imbalance at the source? Adjusting the salary cap or luxury tax using expected post-tax instead of pre-tax dollars eliminates this competitive advantage.

Do that, and I can return to just blaming the cold weather as the reason the Timberwolves are staying home during the yet another N.B.A. playoffs season.