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    Wall Street Journal: New Toys Act Like Surveillance Gear

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about high-tech surveillance equipment in the guise of children’s toys, so kids can learn how to invade privacy from a young age. I’ve written before about adults using off-the-shelf surveillance equipment (a.k.a. “spyware”) to watch neighbors, colleagues, friends and loved ones, but I haven’t see such high-tech equipment being marketed to kids before.

    As technology advances, commercial spyware has become cheaper and smaller. The easy-to-hide surveillance gadgets have been increasing in popularity, but there are questions surrounding the legality of the use of such technology. Besides the usual tiny cameras and hidden microphones, other kinds of spyware include: key loggers (software that tracks keys typed in order to get passwords or other data); GPS-tracking devices (which track your physical location); and wi-fi interception (which monitors your online activities).

    In November, a woman in China and two investigators she hired were arrested “after they confessed to police” that they had illegally attached GPS location-tracking devices to the woman’s husband’s vehicle and scooter. Last year, USA Today wrote a story about the increase of spyware sales around Valentine’s Day. A 2009 Department of Justice report revealed electronic monitoring is increasingly being used by stalkers against their victims. A couple years ago, the Wall Street Journal had an article about people counter-spying against would-be snoopers.

    Now, the Journal reports toy manufacturers are creating remote-controlled cars that are “snoops on wheels,” and other surveillance gadgets.

    The Spy Video Trakr, which debuts later this week, includes a night-vision video camera, speakers and route-mapping feature. […]

    “A kid can program the Trakr to snap a picture of his sister talking on the phone when she is supposed to be doing homework, then drive the car to his parents and rat her out with a pre-recorded message,” says Daniel Grossman, chief executive of the car’s maker, Wild Planet Entertainment Inc. In focus groups, kids came up with their own plans for the car. “Drive it under my sister’s bed and yell boo when she walks in the room,” one boy suggested. […]

    Spy toys have been perennial best sellers for years, and children spies have populated children’s literature and movies from “Harriet the Spy” in 1964 to the “Spy Kids” movie franchise to the Disney Channel’s “Kim Possible.” […]

    In the past, toys like disappearing ink and scopes that could see around corners were popular. More recently, Jakks Pacific Inc. had a big hit with its EyeClops Infrared Night Vision Stealth Binoculars. Using real night-vision technology, the binoculars allow kids to see up to 50 feet in darkness and sell for $59.

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