Furbys were all the rage in the late nineties—1998 alone saw the sale of a whopping 27 million units—and remain popular to this day. But did you know that they’ve actually been cited as a national security threat?
The key to the dolls’ success lay in their robotic anatomy. Sophisticated programming enabled them to interact with toy owners and each other at an essentially unprecedented degree, which you can see on full display in this retro commercial:
However, one thing these talkative toys couldn’t do, despite rumors to the contrary, was imitate things they’d heard their owners saying. “[Although] Furby is a clever toy,” said a spokesman, “it does not record or mimic voices.”
Apparently, no one bothered to tell the U.S. intelligence community. In 1999, Furbys were officially banned by the NSA, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the Pentagon. Administrators allegedly worried that an employee might bring one into work wherein it could eavesdrop on a top-secret conversation and “start talking classified.”
Tiger Electronics—a division of the Hasbro toy company—was quick to issue a statement clearing their product’s good name. TE President Roger Shiffman said that the government’s misgivings were based on “funny yet incorrect rumors” and added, “The NSA did not do their homework. Furby is not a spy.”
Other wildly-inaccurate anti-Furby allegations Shiffman’s team has had to dispel include several claims that “the current Furby has the technology to launch the space shuttle. We [also] have one woman who is absolutely insistent that her Furby sings Italian operas.”
Furby was also denounced for supposedly interfering with electronic medical equipment, a myth that was busted by Canadian health scientists in 2000. Dr. Kok-Swang Tan, who helped conduct the research, recalled getting “some strange looks from colleagues who wondered why I was playing with a Furby in front of medical devices.”