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.

Best Interview Ever on Fox

Richard Dreyfus and Tucker Carlson: Six Minutes with two real American Thinkers


How about six minutes with a real American Thinker? Refreshing and crystalline, patriotic and commonsensical is the description of this six minutes of Richard Dreyfus with Tucker Carlson. Take a look, here is the video:


The first issue Dreyfus touches on in the video is not necessarily the most important, but a reminder to us all. He explains that to understand the federal judge’s ruling on the Sanctuary City Executive Order requires one to first read it. Upon doing so, one is reminded that Congress, not the Executive, controls the purse strings and thus the judge’s contention.

Secondly he moves to the issue of the importance of dissenting opinions on campus and the need for a “battle of ideas” on university campuses.

But Dreyfus continues to a greater issue. With a touch of John Locke and a dash of Thomas Jefferson, Dreyfus points to shortfalls in our school system regarding the teaching of civics. Dreyfus notes, a la Locke’s tabula rasa, that we are not born with an understanding of the Ten Commandments, and neither are we born with the knowledge of the Preamble to the Constitution. Both must be taught.

We have seen the Fox News Jesse Watters interviews of people who should know certain civics basics, but don’t. Dreyfus emphasizes that this is a dangerous condition.  He notes that if we do not know who we are and what we stand for, the common fabric that binds us dissolves.

“The Constitution and the Bill of Rights must be central, and that political parties must be peripheral. “

“Civics has not been taught in the American public school system since 1970.”

“The Constitution is why we have been admired … it gives us our national identity.”

“Education turns students into citizens….it teaches them to run the country before it is their turn.”

Our national promises are opportunity, rise by merit, mobility and freedom.

“The Preamble to the Constitution is the mandate of the Country.”

Wonderful points and eloquently presented by Mr. Dreyfus.  I would suggest delving even deeper into the main issue’s cause.  Why were civics ever dropped by the school systems?  Was that the watershed moment, when our school system took a hard turn to the Left?

I hold with all that Dreyfus presents, but I suggest we must first discover why national history and civics is ignored by the education system.  When we uncover the forces that perpetuate that which Mr. Dreyfus wishes to correct, we can begin the process.

Fascism Comes To America

The Fascist movement began in Italy during World War i. It is an extension of socialism and is, therefore, a far left movement.  There is no doubt of this, but the positioning of fascist on the left with communism caused distress among academics, mostly,, like 90% on the left.   Tthe Academy, therefore, started calling fascism a far right program so that its beloved communism of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, would not have to occupy the same segment of the political spectrum as its hated fascism  of Mussolini and Hitler, although there is no doubt that Mussolini and Hitler were men of the left. this created the absurdity that “fascism is so far right it is almost left.”  A very good friend of mine, a lawyer, and college president told me this and he was serious.

One feature of fascism is that it uses blunt force to gain political power.  This is administering beatings to those wha say the wrong words,”Middlebury,” take over the physical space of those they don’t approve of,”Occupy Wallstreet,” or riot and burn property, “Berkeley.”

The most absurd aspect of all os this behavior is that the thugs, rioters, and occupiers and doing so ti squelches freedoms, such as freedom of speech and assembly, and they do so they portray themselves as anti-fascist.  This is clever wordplay, as everyone knows fascists are evil, so it they are anti-fascist, they must be good!  The glaring error here is that the fascists are them. The students are Hitler’s Brownshirts born again in America’s colleges, where students learn very little of value and know nothing of the fascist forces they are embracing and unleashing of this country.

Roger Simon writes on the subject as well.

Will Fascism Come to America through Its Colleges and Universities?

If fascism comes to America, it will be through our college and university system.

The biggest cowards in our country today are many, if not most, of our college and university administrators followed closely by a fair amount of their faculty.  They are allowing their institutions to be taken over by a monolithic world view that is increasingly totalitarian and antithetical to the diversity of opinion on which the search for truth depends.

The inmates are running the asylum — and not with any of the humor of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Social Justice Warriors are to social justice what the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is to democracy.  In a few years, freshman handbooks may no longer be necessary.  They can give out copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm instead.

And I’m not just talking about recent events at UC Berkeley, where the onetime bastion of the free speech movement has turned into ground zero for the anti-speech movement, spearheaded by the violent masked goons of the absurdly named “antifa,” speaking of Orwellian constructs. This restrictive attitude toward viewpoint diversity is pervasive throughout our colleges and universities, even though the freedom of speech enshrined in the First Amendment is arguably the most important of all principles on which this country was founded.  Yet only a tiny minority of those responsible for our higher education have the courage to defend it.  Most are so timid they won’t even lend their name to a petition.

Think I’m exaggerating?  In September 2015, the indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) launched a campaign in support of the University of Chicago New Free Speech Statement that advocated for a “completely free and open discussion of ideas” on that campus. Since that time, only a paltry 590 people have signed on to endorse the statement, several feeling constrained to do so as “anonymous,” as if endorsing the Bill of Rights (maybe even the Magna Carta) were today hugely controversial and might endanger their ability to make a living.

Even more disturbing, as of December 19, 2016, only 17 (out of over 4000!) of our institutions of higher learning had adopted the U. Chicago statement or something similar.  Among the missing (at that point anyway) were such august names as Harvard, Cornell, Brown, my own Dartmouth, Yale, the University of California system, University of Michigan, MIT, Caltech, Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Middlebury (needless to say)… I could go on, but it would obviously take up many pages.  Shame on all of them.

We are at a moment when all stakeholders in our higher educational system — administrators, faculty, students and parents, actually the entire country — must take a firm stand against this creeping totalitarianism and support diversity of opinion on our campuses.  The current monolithic atmosphere not only threatens our democratic system, it undermines education in all subjects, discouraging students from free inquiry while encouraging a lack of curiosity.  It also creates an atmosphere where students are simply too frightened to express themselves in class, lest they are marked down by their professors for “incorrect” ideas or ostracized (in the tradition of the Chinese Cultural Revolution) by their fellow students.

The results of this are disastrous, socially and intellectually. Fear of ostracism induces the worst kind of conformity as well as, often, depression.  And when ideas become unyieldingly orthodox in one area, they more easily become orthodox in all. The mind becomes inflexible and markedly less creative. Critical thinking disappears.  This incurious rigidity mixed with fear undoubtedly has more to do than is commonly admitted with why members of the business community are complaining about the lack of preparedness of our recent graduates.

Fortunately, and almost in the nick of time, some organizations have already been taking a firm stand for this viewpoint diversity and deserve our fullest support.  Heterodox University has aggregated a valuable list of faculty — liberal and conservative — who are advocates of free expression on campus. Good on them. HU also provides a useful guide to schools where openness prevails.  On the more conservative side, the National Association of Scholars and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute are doing their best for an embattled campus minority, and Turning Point USA keeps a Professor Watchlist of those using the classroom for ideological indoctrination.

Since students are the consumers of education and its reason for being, equally, if not more, important are two excellent sites that deal with the student experience in today’s higher ed — The College Fix and Campus Reform.  If you’re not reading them, you should be.

And not just casually.  Because the people who are trying to keep our campuses free are on the front lines of the most important fight of our times — to keep America from descending into a Weimar Republic with decadent thugs shutting down speech across the country, just as they did in Germany in the ’20s and ’30s.  We’re not there yet, but we’re close.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media.  His latest book is I Know Best:  How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If  It Hasn’t Already.   Follow him on Twitter @rogerlsimon.