Which Popular Children’s Toy Was Banned From Secure Facilities?
Launched in 1998, the Furby was an electronic stuffed toy produced by Tiger Electronics (later by Hasbro). Furbies were incredibly popular and became the must-have toy of the 1998-1999 holiday season–over 15 million units were sold in the first two years.
So what about a cute little toy put the intelligence industry (and many corporations) on edge? A fundamental misunderstanding about how the toy worked. Each Furby came pre-programmed speaking “Furbish” a fabricated babble-like language. Over time, to mimic interaction and learning with the child, the Furbish would slowly give way to English in order to create the illusion that the child playing with the Furby had taught it to communicate. Every Furby came off the assembly line destined to say the same things in English once the pseudo-teaching process was complete, however.
Most people, including people at the National Security Agency and other government organizations, didn’t understand this. It was popularly reported that the Furby actually learned by listening and would repeat what it heard. There was a minor panic that a Furby would sponge up State or corporate secrets and repeat them outside the briefing or boardroom. The popular toy was banned everywhere from NSA cafeterias to corporate cubicles.