The Privacy of Play

Growing up in the digital age means having access to powers and possibilities previous generations never had. But growing up in the digital age means taking on and manage new responsibilities and risks, too.

Balancing the effects of digitization is mostly discussed from an economic and organizational point of view. But digital lifestyle happens in your private home and family life, too.

Digital experiences very likely can enrich the cognitive, social-emotional and moral development of children. But the risk of raising them in a bubble or even to harm their free individual development is very real.

Vai Kai human-like interaction evoking care-taking patterns that helps to develop cognitive and emotional capacities for children

Digital transformation comes with a change of meaning for social and emotionally loaded terms such as „friend“, „like“, „love“, or „being in touch“. It also comes with a re-assessment of core values.

What’s the meaning of ‚privacy‘ in times when the trackability and transparency of digital footprints have become a status symbol?

European rights just got a new scope – Trust on the rise

018 was the year when the General data protection regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the EU. Since May 2018 personal data is protected by law at the risk of a fine against the violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights protecting the Right of authorship, the sphere of personal privacy and the right to be forgotten.

Although it was common knowledge before that digital activities leave traces and this could somehow become delicate; collateral risks where all too happily brushed aside by the advantages of comfort and ease of use.

It is fair to say that for the general public only this official acknowledgement of a need to protect citizens made a change. Only the adjustment to governing law really led to the understanding of how profoundly daily life and economics had changed.

Although the actual effect on the industry is still being discussed, it’s dimension is clearly not restricted to Europe. Digital has no national boundaries. Customers stay EU-Citizen no matter where they are surfing, interacting or shopping. Their rights have to be respected universally. But the change goes even deeper and is not restricted to European definitions of security.

The question of trust and whom to trust also gave rise to the blockchain. People concluded that concentrating data and power increases the danger of misuse. So they started to work on a concept that takes the power from few to many, preferring distributed over centralistic structures, and connected communities over monopoles. The Blockchain is a new definition of trust and proof that nobody tampers with your data.

Trust is Zeitgeist.


Trust in the home zone: It started back in 2015…

The reasoning behind GDPR and official measures recently taken focus on article 8 of the EU charter. But there is another very important article in close vicinity. It is article 7 focusing on the special protection of children and the home environment.

In 2015 - the same year when GDPR was negotiated - the EU commission organized a toy maker panel discussing the impact of the digital in the industry.

The discussion with participants such as Lego and Vai Kai focused on the importance of risk elimination and preserving of value in producing digital enhanced toys for our children and the question under which conditions, if at all!, innovation may overrule our worries of the yet unknown and untested side-effects of novelties.


Privacy by default

From that panel discussion more research and thinking ensued, leading among others to the founding of the Data Ethics ThinkDoTank.

The book „Data Ethics – the new competitive Advantage“ by panel organizer Gry Hasselbalch is a helpful and interesting source for anyone who would like to dive deeper into this discussion.

As a summary Matas, IoT engineer and Co-Founder of Vai Kai, breaks it down to three demands that the industry should impose in themselves when creating new digitally enhanced toys:

1. Don‘t distract

Technology is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. Products that aim to establish a marketing system miss the point and misuse the producer‘s responsibility.

2. Connect!

The goal should be instead to add a new dimension to human-to-human-relationships. A meaningful digital toy delivers an interactive experience that connects children to their friends and family.

3. Inspire!

Judge the toy by the feeling it evokes after a playing session. Is the child upset or sleepy from overstimulation? Or is it full of joy and easily led to another activity, inspired and curious to try something new? Well, I guess it is obvious which one is beneficial and which the malicious media experience…

When Vai Kai was developing their signature companion they followed the motto „Privacy by default“. Instead of implementing camera or a microphone they created a touch- and sound-based feature set to mimic human-like interaction.


Children don’t need cameras or microphones to play and interact.

This creative concept is not only more secure and privacy-conscious. It in fact also more apply matches the expressive preferences of toddlers and pre-school children.

So, no data at all?!

So why, some might wonder, don’t we get rid of the difficult digital stuff for pre-school children at all? Well, because by ignoring it,it won’t go away. And even worse: you miss the chance to control it.

From a practical point of view: avoidance is anyway, if at all, only partly possible. It is not just about your own household and personal consumption. It is about the world and people surrounding you. Today’s individuals live integrated into a digital world. If you are not shaping this world, others will do it for you.

And from a value-driven and goal-oriented point of view the passive strategy of avoidance is the wrong way entirely. We strive for the exact opposite: action, initiative, and the will to create. We want to teach the next generation not to escape but to master digital challenges.

Those who create toys or digital services will need data at some point. It is the user’s feedback without which maintenance and improvement is not possible.

But there is a middle way between „all data“ and „no data“. The motto of „privacy by design“ means to chose the right and relevant data needed to build products, that work for the children and their families.

“Privacy by design to me means that we take the position of the privacy and concerned customer aware and we build a way for them to get what they want.”
– Matas Petrikas, Vai Kai

In: „Data Ethics – the new competitive Advantage“, Gry Hasselbalch and Pernille Tranberg, 2016.

Data is the food of Artificial Intelligence systems. The way how data is collected and arrange will literally shape the digital future. This is why it is so important to treat this topic with care and responsibility. Data should not be collected because it ‚might some day be useful somehow‘. Instead the data should help a purpose that is clearly defined and adds to the product’s value right now.

Which data is used in developing Vai Kai products and which values the company commits to can be read in the CEO’s statement here.


No armchair philosophy

The question of finding the right balance between security and innovative products is no armchair philosophy. Technology and society change fast and every day new questions arise and shed a different light on the right dose of „interconnectedness“.

Vai Kai is participating in ongoing academic research and European Commissions projects such as the ‚Kaleidoscope on the Internet of Toys‘ to help understand and the key role policy-makers and regulatory bodies have to provide an adequate framework for the development of IoToys, beneficial to both Industry and families.

We would like to connect more like-minded people and start an ongoing-discussion on how the world of play can be developed and opened up in a meaningful and secure way.

Do you consider yourself an Ambassador of Play? Please reach out, we would love to hear from you.