Keep an eye on the new Toys ‘R’ Us (it’s keeping an eye on you)

Toys “R” Us’s new stores don’t actually stock the full catalog of toys -- instead, they’re designed to collect data on consumers’ buying habits.

December 13, 2019

Like Santa, who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, Toys “R” Us sees what you are doing in its stores. Specialized technology tracks consumer behavior to better inform marketing practices — but it might violate a law meant to protect children’s privacy.

Toys ‘R’ Us comes back from the dead

After racking up $5B in debt, Toys “R” Us in 2017 filed for bankruptcy protection and shuttered 800+ stores. But now backed by private equity, the retailer has opened 2 new mall locations: a flagship in New Jersey and another in Texas.

The dead have eyes

A new aspect to Toys “R” Us 2.0 is its video monitoring system, supplied by the startup b8ta and powered by the surveillance biggie RetailNext. Brick-and-mortar stores have long used surveillance to nab shoplifters, but this new technology tracks consumer behavior to inform future marketing efforts. 

The tech could also be monitoring children’s activity — a potential violation under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a digital privacy law that protects children under 13.

RetailNext says its depth-sensing cameras skip over people under 4 feet tall and blur facial imagery to protect anonymity. However, according to the CDC, it’s not unusual for boys to hit 5 feet by the age of 10 — meaning some children’s activity could still be included in Toys “R” Us’s marketing data.

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