If you were a kid, or a parent, in the late nineties, you know how popular Furbys were. The little animatronic creatures sold off the shelves faster than stores could stock them, and they topped Christmas wish lists for years. In 1998, 27 million of the little guys were sold in the US. And whether or not you still want one, Furbys have retained their popularity even today. But here’s a fun fact about the seemingly harmless robotic toys: they were once considered a threat to national security.
At the time they were introduced, Furbys represented the cutting edge of robotics for consumers. They were interactive, both with their owners and other Furbys, to a level that had no precedent, at least not in the American toy market. Here’s a friendly blast from the past to remind you just how cool Furbys were:
Rumors about the toys were rife; besides the obvious spook-stories about Furbys coming to life, one of the most popular rumors was that Furbys would be able to parrot their owner’s voices and learn new words and phrases. However, it never actually had this ability.
The U.S. intelligence community did not get this memo, and in 1999 Furbys received an official ban from the Pentagon, the NSA, and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The fear was that an employee – or covert spy – could bring a Furby into work and the robot would be able to record top-secret meetings and conversations, then go and blab to the whole world just what it’d heard.
Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics, which manufactured the Furby, quickly sent out a statement clearing their name and ensuring the officials that Furby was not, in fact, capable of repeating words or phrases.
What other hijinks was the innocent Furby accused of? For one, rumors that newer Furbys contained technology that could launch the space shuttle. For the record, no Furby in the history of Furbys has been able to launch a space shuttle (unless its owner lets it press the button, that is). One particularly invested Furby owner will not admit that her Furby does not sing Italian operas. Once more for the record, Furbys do not sing Italian operas.
Furby has also been accused of potentially messing with electronic medical equipment; luckily, Dr. Kok-Swang Tan came to the rescue in 2000 to dispel the rumors. Perhaps someday we can live in a world where Furbys and humans coexist peacefully; until then, please, try to do some fact-checking before spreading slander about the gentle Furby.