Canada: Hackable Barbies, Malicious Poodles: PIPEDA Compliance And The Internet Of Things

She stands just under a foot tall, has a résumé that includes such storied accomplishments as astronaut, registered nurse, and Presidential candidate.  Whether cropped or worn shoulder-length, her iconic blonde hair has been inspiring popular culture since well before Madonna.  She's owned more dream homes than most real estate magnates, and earlier last month Barbie tried out a brand new accessory that has been turning heads ever since—an AzureWave AW-CU300E 802.11 b/g/n WiFi Microcontroller Module.

In early November, toymaker Mattel took the plunge into the internet of things ("IoT") with one of its most recognizable brands.  "Hello, Barbie", a WiFi-enabled doll equipped with voice recognition technology, allows this edition of the popular Barbie doll to use a cloud-based intelligence to assess speech from a child and choose an appropriate response from more than 8,000 lines of pre-recorded dialogue.

Mattel is not the only toymaker marketing a children's product in the IoT category this holiday season.  Fisher-Price has introduced a line of WiFi connected stuffed bears, pandas, and monkeys that similarly listen to children and remember and adapt to interactions with a child.  Disney has also introduced a series of super-hero themed wearables that allow children to take part in pre-programmed adventures while tracking battle statistics and allowing users to download additional missions and receive messages.

Risk and the Internet of Things

Connecting to the internet is not without risk, however. Recently,  information security firm Bluebox Labs reported on several security vulnerabilities in toymaker Mattel's mobile app and cloud-based servers.  Of particular note was the vulnerability of the servers operated by Mattel's partner, ToyTalk, to a POODLE attack, which exploits the basic SSLv3 protocol for encrypting web traffic.  While Bluebox reports that many of the security issues have since been resolved, security analysts have been aware of the POODLE vulnerability since late 2014, which had the media raising questions about the information security rigour exercised by businesses developing IoT connected devices.

Mattel is not the only IoT producer to have encountered information security concerns in the past few weeks.  On November 27th, Hong Kong-based supplier of children's connected learning toys, VTech, reported an intrusion against their Learning Lodge customer database and Kid Connect servers affecting over 5 million parent profiles and 6.5 million child profiles.  The company has yet to confirm whether chat logs, audio files and pictures of children were taken.

The intersection of information security and privacy on the IoT is a familiar topic.  CyberLex readers may be familiar with the speech given by Daniel Caron, Legal Counsel at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner at the 2014 Information Security Rendez-vous.  In his speech, Caron suggested businesses must be prepared to adopt a new information security paradigm for IoT system technologies.  In particular, quoting an IT security expert, Carron wryly suggested that wherever the word "software" appears in a system, developers should replace it with the word "hackable".  Similarly, Carron suggested that, from an information security standpoint, the word "connection" should be synonymous with the word "exposed".

 IoT Products and Personal Information

While all business operating in the IoT should take note of the requirements of Canadian laws governing the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, the advent of IoT toys marketed at children raises particular compliance risks and will likely put Canada's technology-neutral privacy laws to the test.  These learnings may extend to other sensitive personal information such as health data from fitness wearables and information about driving habits that may affect insurability and licensing to name but a few examples.

Businesses in Canada that market information systems that collect or utilize personal information are required to have security measure in place that correspond to the level of sensitivity of the information they are collecting.  While businesses may plan to protect routine information such as an end-user's name and email address, special care and attention should be given to the wealth of consumer data that these IoT products may be recording about the habits and preferences of end-users, particularly when this data concerns the activities of children at play in an environment with a high expectation of privacy (living-rooms, bedrooms, etc.).

Valid Consent

Businesses should recall that Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) requires meaningful consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information—when it comes to tracking the activities and preferences of children, meaningful consent may be harder to establish.  As early as 2011, in a guide published by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, it was suggested that, as a best practise, "organizations should avoid tracking children and tracking on websites aimed at children".  The Digital Privacy Act, proclaimed on June 18, 2015, modified the requirement for valid consent within PIPEDA by arguably requiring businesses to adapt the consent process to the sophistication of a particular end-user.  A corresponding government press release suggested simple language would be required when dealing with vulnerable Canadians, like children.

Understandably, the value organizations hope to harvest from the IoT is based on a capability to capture, analyze, and act upon data recorded by connected devices.  In this area, Canadian law does not provide a bright line, workable standard for businesses looking to comply with Canadian privacy laws and highlights a shortcoming in comparison to other jurisdictions where more particularized guidance regarding children's online privacy is contemplated.  For instance, in addition to state-level laws protecting children and students, in the United States the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA"), offers distinct protection for children's online privacy throughout the country.  COPPA, sets out, for instance, a definition of "Verifiable parental consent" and provides express carve-out related to certain activities of children.

The Mattel/ToyTalk release of a connected product with a security vulnerability to a known exploit raises another important issue businesses should consider when making the decision to develop products for the IoT.  Businesses should consider more than the costs of information security measures that arise during development.  IoT businesses should factor into the costs analyses of their connected devices those ongoing product lifecycle costs associated with monitoring for potential threats, notifying consumers of identified vulnerabilities in their product mix, and patching any such vulnerabilities.

This concern is particularly pressing given the introduction of breach reporting under PIPEDA by the Digital Privacy Act.  As the cost of networking technology continues to decrease, more disposable and high-turnover products are being loaded with WiFi and data-gathering capabilities.  In order to comply with Canadian privacy laws, businesses must, however, continue to keep in mind the compliance necessity of securing those devices, the applications that support them, the channels of communication utilized by the devices, and the servers with which the devices are communicating.  Given the multitude of communication protocols that may be in production at any time, this may not be an easy task.  Where possible, businesses should strive to maintain an up-to-date technology architecture that requires developers to consider information security and privacy at all steps of the development cycle (so-called "security-by-design") and should not treat information security as a discrete task at the end of product development.  Such measures will ease the burden of undertaking comprehensive and contextual threat monitoring.

As for Mattel/ToyTalk's decision to board up the doggy door into Barbie's dream home and lock out poor POODLE, I've heard Barbie is more of a cat person anyways.

To view the original article please click here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions